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"For Instruction shall come forth from Zion, The word of the L-rd from Jerusalem." -- Isaiah 2:3


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LEVITICUS — 13:2 he

We must be aware that words can cause much damage. The Dubno Magid said that many people speak loshon hora because they are not fully aware of the power of the spoken word. How often people rationalize, "I didn't do anything to him, I only said a few words." The metzora, who has been afflicted with tzoraas because of his speaking loshon hora, is taught a lesson about the power of a single word. He must go to a priest who will decide if he is a metzora or not. Just one word by the priest ("Unclean!"), will completely isolate him from society. No more will the metzora minimize the destructive capability of words. (Ohel Yaakov, Metzora) Words can destroy. They can destroy someone's reputation. They can destroy friendships. They can destroy someone's successful business. Therefore, we must be as careful with them as we would be with explosive material.

LEVITICUS — 13:2 swelling

The portion of "Tazria" serves as a lesson that we must refrain from speaking loshon hora. The entire portion of Tazria is a lesson in guarding one's tongue. The Rambam writes that the disease of tzoraas was a supernatural disease sent to warn someone to refrain from speaking loshon hora. There were three levels of tzoraas. The first attacked the person's house. If he repented, then it would spread no further. If, however, he continued speaking against others, his clothes would contract tzoraas. Again, if he repented, it would stop spreading. If he did not, then his body would be afflicted with tzoraas. (Hilchos Tumas Tzoraas 16:10). The Chofetz Chayim pointed out that from the severity of the tumah (spiritual uncleanliness) of the metzora (the person afflicted with tzoraas), we have an indication of the severity of loshon hora. This is the only type of tumah in which the person is required to stay entirely out of the camp or city where other people live. (Shmiras Haloshon 1:5). In accordance with the concept that tzoraas is a punishment for speaking loshon hora, the Chasan Sofer said that verse 2 points to three reasons why people might speak against others: 1) Sais (a rising). A person might speak against others to raise his own stature. Others have faults which he feels he does not have. 2) Sapachas (a scab): A person might join (sipuach) a group of people who speak against others. In ordinary circumstances he would not speak loshon hora, but he tries to be sociable and behave like people around him. 3) Baheres (a bright spot): A person might have done something against someone else, and in an attempt to exonerate himself, he speaks against that person. That is, he clarifies (bahir) the reason for his behavior. A person should be aware of his motive for speaking loshon hora and then work on correcting himself.

LEVITICUS — 13:45 grow

If we are aware of our own faults we will not look for the faults of others. The Chofetz Chayim explained that the metzora must rend his garments and let his hair grow to teach humility. Tzoraas comes from speaking loshon hora. One of the main reasons a person speaks against others is because he feels that he is superior to them. If a person is truly aware of this faults, he will not seek out the faults of others. Therefore, the metzora must conduct himself in a lowly manner to train himself not to look upon others. (Shmiras Haloshon 2:16).

LEVITICUS — 13:45 unclean

The written Torah states: "The leper in whom the disease [leprosy] is… shall cry: "Unclean, unclean" [this verse]. There is an allusion here to a subtle but pervasive psychological mechanism that Freud recognized: projection. People who are impure themselves are generally the first to detect uncleanness in others. All too easily we can darkly impugn the motives and intentions of others because unconsciously we attribute to others what we know ourselves to be capable of doing and thinking. He who is himself a leper is the first to cry out at others, "Unclean, unclean!" In the pithy adage of our Sages, "Whoever declares others blemished, it is his own blemish that he ascribes to others" (T.B. Kiddushin 70a). This telling point of our Torah is one side of the coin. The other side of the coin is Ben Zoma' teaching. Are you ready to denounce and vilify others in the blackest terms, perhaps without justification? Take care. You have a clear warning here that in your own house a thorough spring-cleaning is needed. The more you wield the brush with black paint, the darker your self-portrait becomes. If you would rather be a man of honor, to earn and enjoy the esteem of others, learn to view selectively. Observe in others whatever is good and praiseworthy, and honor them for it. Give each man the esteem that is his due. This is the only way, says Ben Zoma, to achieve your own.

LEVITICUS — 13:45 unclean

These are quintessential expressions of shame. First is the stigma, the public marks of disgrace or dishonor (the torn clothes, the unkempt hair). Then comes the ostracism, temporary exclusion from the normal affairs of society. These have nothing to do with illness and everything to do with social disapproval. This is what makes the laws of tzaraat so hard to understand at first: it is one of the rare appearances of public shame in a non-shame-based culture, a guilt-based culture. It happened, though, not because society had expressed its disapproval but because G-d was signaling that it should do so. Why specifically in the case of lashon hara, "evil speech"? Because speech is what holds society together. Anthropologists have argued that language evolved among humans precisely in order to strengthen the bonds between them so that they could cooperate in larger groupings than any other animal. What sustains cooperation is trust. This allows and encourages me to make sacrifices for the group, knowing that others can be relied on to do likewise. This is precisely why lashon hara is so destructive. It undermines trust. It makes people suspicious about one another. It weakens the bonds that hold the group together. If unchecked, lashon hara will destroy any group it attacks -- a family, a team, a community, even a nation. Hence its uniquely malicious character; it uses the power of language to weaken the very thing language was brought into being to create, namely, the trust that sustains the social bond. That is why the punishment for lashon hara was to be temporarily excluded from society by public exposure (the signs that appear on walls, furniture, clothes, and skin), stigmatism and shame (the torn clothes, etc.), and ostracism (being forced to live outside the camp). It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to punish the malicious gossiper using the normal conventions of law – – courts and the establishment of guilt. This can be done in the case of motzi shem ra, libel or slander, because these are all cases of making a false statement. Lashon hara is more subtle. It is done not by falsehood but by insinuation. There are many ways of harming a person's reputation without actually telling a lie. Someone accused of lashon hara can easily say, "I didn't say it, I didn't mean it, and even if I did, I did not say anything that was untrue." The best way of dealing with people who poison relationships without actually ordering falsehoods is by naming, shaming, and shunning them. That, according to the sages, is what tzarrat miraculously did in ancient times. It no longer exist in the form described in the Torah. But the use of the Internet and social media as instruments of public shaming illustrates both the power and the danger of a culture of shame. Only rarely does the Torah invoke it, and in the case of the metzora only by an act of G-d, not Society. Yet the moral of the metzora remains. Malicious gossip, lashon hara, undermines relationships, erodes the social bond, and damages trust. It deserves to be exposed and shamed. Never speak ill of others, and stay far from those who do.

LEVITICUS — 13:45 unclean

We should pray for others even if we are not asked to do so. The Talmud states that the metzora shouted out, "Unclean! Unclean!" to publicize his plight in order that people should pray for his recovery. The Talmud adds that the same applies to anyone who is suffering. He should notify the public about his problem, and they will pray to G-d to have mercy upon him (Sotah 32b). From here we learn that when we hear about someone else's misfortune we should pray for that person even if we are not explicitly asked to do so. The Talmud does not state that the person whom misfortune has befallen must ask others to pray for him; all needs to do is publicize his plight. On their own the public will understand that they have an obligation to pray for him. The Chofetz Chayim notes that this principle is specifically mentioned with reference to a metzora. The Zohar states that the prayers of a person who speaks loshon hora are not accepted. Since the metzora has spoken loshon hora, his own prayers will not help. Hence, he needs others to pray on his behalf. (Shmiras Haloshon 1:7).

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