Parashat Tazria - Metzorah
Dedicated Leilui Nishmat Mr. Isaac Suede A'H by Alan Fallas
Parashat Tazria-Metzorah A Woman’s Extra Kedusha The parasha begins with laws of birth and that which is tameh—impure. Rabbi Frand points out a very interesting observation in Gemara Nidda that there are three partners in the creation of a baby: Hashem, the mother, and the father. As a woman carries a baby for nine months from conception to the final stages of giving birth, she is on a very high level of kedusha-holiness. In essence she becomes a partner with Hashem in creating a newborn baby! When Chava gave birth to the first baby, she said, “Kaniti ish et Hashem.” She felt that she was a direct partner with Hashem in creating her son, and so she named him Kayin. This is one reason why women are at a higher level than men. But once the woman gives birth, at the precise moment that the baby leaves her womb, she goes back to becoming an ordinary person again. What is tum’ah—impurity? The Kuzari explains that tum’ah is the void that occurs when kedusha leaves a place. When a baby is born, the woman’s extra kedusha leaves, which creates a void where tum’ah sets in automatically. According to the Torah, a woman is tameh for seven days after giving birth to a son, and fourteen days after giving birth to a girl. The difference in the days of impurity is because a son is “a creation,” but a girl is a “creation that’s also a potential creator.” Because of this, there’s much more kedusha when a baby girl is born. When all that kedusha leaves the woman’s body, it creates a bigger void than the birth of a boy (who has less kedusha), so there’s more days of tum’ah. Tzara’at Last week, in Parashat Shemini, we learned how careful we have to be about what food enters our mouth. In this week’s parasha, Tazria, we learn how careful we have to be about what words exit our mouths. Speech, too, needs to be “kosher.” Our Sages have pointed out that humans are the only beings who are blessed with the power of speech, and with that power comes the responsibility of proper speech. Our Sages link the disease of tzara’at, loosely defined as leprosy, to lashon hara—the act of speaking negatively about others. Hashem sends this disease as a punishment and a warning to stop saying bad things about others. The Torah explains that the tzara’at will first arrive on the walls of one’s home, then it will spread to one’s clothing, and lastly it will appear on one’s skin. The tzara’at comes to those three articles because they all act as a person’s protection: his house protects his family, his clothes protect his body, and his skin protects his organs. The disease comes in that order as an escalating warning to give him a chance to stop speaking lashon hara. If someone has tzara’at he must remain secluded from others for at least seven days, until the kohen declares him pure. Tzara’at is a nega—plague which is spelled nun-gimel-ayin. The word ayin means both the letter ayin, as well as “eye.” If you move the letter ayin to the beginning of the word nega, it reads oneg—pleasure, which is the opposite of plague. This is to say, that if one looks upon others with ayin tova— a good eye, it will be good for him and will lead to oneg. On the other hand, if one looks at people with a negative light and speaks lashon hara about others, then he will get the nega, and the plague of tzara’at will come to his home, his clothes, and ultimately his skin. The Snake’s Split Tongue We learned in Parashat Beresheet that the first case of lashon hara was when the snake told Chava that she could eat from the etz hadaat—Tree of Knowledge. In doing so, the snake spoke lashon hara against Hashem. We saw how Hashem punished the snake by making him crawl on his belly for the rest of his days, condemned to eat the dust of the earth. Our Sages teach us that Hashem also gave the snake dotted skin, a form of tzara’at, and a split tongue. The split tongue is significant because the snake used its tongue to speak wickedly and create a rift. In this case, he told Chava that it was okay to eat from the etz hadaat — which went directly against Hashem’s commandment not to eat from the tree — and this caused a rift between Adam and Hashem. If you look at all disputes, either between a husband and wife or between business partners and so on, they all originate from lashon hara, where one speaks ill of the other. We’re all aware that lashon hara is a terrible sin, yet we continue to do it. The question is, why are we so compelled to speak lashon hara when we know how bad it is? One answer is that lashon hara stems from our own insecurity, because by speaking negatively about others, we think we’re elevating ourselves. The remedy for not speaking lashon hara is to focus only on the good in people, and then we will have no need to make negative comments! The Hafetz Hayyim dedicated his life to the laws of lashon hara and wrote a book about it, which is essential reading for everyone, young and old! Feathers in the Wind There’s a parable about a man who spoke lashon hara all his life. Towards the end of his life, he asked the rabbi if there was a way for him to do teshuvah. The rabbi told him to take a feather pillow to the top of the Empire State building, rip it open, and let all the feathers fly out into the wind and blow all over the streets. The man did as he was told. He then reported to the rabbi and asked, “Is that it?” The rabbi said, “Oh, I forgot to mention — now that you’ve scattered the feathers into the wind and all over the streets, you must go and pick them all up!” The man protested, “That’s impossible!” The rabbi answered, “That’s exactly what teshuvah is for lashon hara — impossible.” The scattered feathers — impossible to take back —is a symbol of the negative speech which is impossible to take back once it has been spread. People who engage in lashon hara have no control over the effects of their words. They do not know where the words will land, they cannot track the progress of those negative words, and they don’t know what damage the words have done, or whose reputation or happiness they have destroyed. Lashon hara spreads out in many directions which the original speaker can never foresee or know. And, most importantly, once you let out the negative speech, it is impossible to take it back or unsay what you have said, and thus you cannot make amends for all the damage you have done! A Prayer for Proper Speech Speech reveals our inner selves and reflects who we are. Let us appreciate the gift of speech and use it wisely! The following beracha will help protect us from speaking or hearing lashon hara. “Master of the World, may it be Your Will, compassionate and gracious G-d, that You grant me the merit today and every day to guard my mouth and tongue from speaking lashon hara and rehilut. May I be zealous not to speak ill of an individual, and certainly not of the Jewish people or a portion of it; and even more so, may I be zealous not to complain about the ways of the Holy One, Blessed be He. May I be zealous not to speak words of falsehood, flattery, strife, anger, arrogance, hurt, humiliation, mockery, and all other forbidden forms of speech. Grant me the merit to speak only that which is necessary for my physical and spiritual well-being, and may all my deeds and words be for the sake of Heaven.” A few years ago, a couple in Bnei Brak was blessed with a new baby girl. After the baby was born, she would not stop crying and would not nurse from her mother or take any bottles. This concerned the head nurse, who looked in the baby’s mouth and discovered that her lip and tongue were attached. This was a very severe case of this particular deformity. The nurse set up a feeding tube to give the baby necessary nutrients. Right away, the parents discussed between themselves that though this was a tragic occurrence, it is from Hashem and clearly symbolic. Since the defect occurred in the baby’s mouth, they took upon themselves to strengthen their shemirat halashon—guarding one’s tongue and vowed to be more careful and refrain from speaking lashon hara. They also took upon themselves to learn two halachot a day of shemirat halashon and to make sure not to speak or hear lashon hara as a zechut for the refuah shelemah of their newborn baby. The parents then researched who was the best surgeon to perform this complicated procedure to fix their daughter. The parents brought their baby to the surgeon for the appointment a week after they took upon themselves to refrain from speaking lashon hara. The surgeon looked into the baby’s mouth. He looked and looked inside with a serious expression, not saying a word, which made the parents anxious. Finally, the surgeon said, “I really don’t know why you are here, there is absolutely nothing wrong with your daughter’s mouth. Her tongue and lips are perfect, exactly the way they should be.” A Frightening Idea Rabbi Frand brings down a frightening chiddush—idea from the Chovot HaLevavot. The idea is that if Reuven was to slander Shimon, it is said that all of Reuven’s mitzvot and merits that he accumulated up until that point will be transferred over to Shimon, and all of Shimon’s sins will be transferred to Reuven. The Chovot HaLevavot goes as far to tell a story about how Shimon sent Reuven a fruit basket as a gift for Reuven saying lashon hara about him, to thank and repay Reuven for transferring all his merits over to Shimon. The Hafetz Hayyim discusses a particular minhag—custom in one of his books. It is customary in the Amidah to say a passuk that begins and ends with the first and last letter of one’s name, in case he forgets his name when the Day of Judgement arrives, at least he will remember the passuk he recited thousands of times in his life. The Hafetz Hayyim asks, “Will a person really forget his name?” He explains, when someone goes to the Heavenly Court and is suddenly credited with a whole range of mitzvot and averot he did not commit, the angels will call him by the many names of those who slandered him and whom he had slandered. He will become so confused! The passuk will have the first and last letter of his name, to remind him of who he really is. A Plague Turns Into a Blessing The passuk says, “When you come to Land of Canaan which I give to you for a possession, and I will put a plague of tzara’at in a house of the land of your possession (Vayikra 14:34).” Rashi quotes the famous Midrash Rabbah that this was in fact good news for the Jewish people. Why would the appearance of tzara’at on their houses be good news? If tzara’at is found on the walls of the house, one is required to demolish it! How can that be good news? The answer, as Rabbi Frand brings down from Rashi, is that the inhabitants of Canaan hid great wealth and treasures in the walls of their houses. If a person would get a plague of tzara’at on his house and follow the halacha of tearing it down, he would find a fortune inside. Therefore, this was good news. Many of us have, no doubt, been bothered by this, asking the following question: If G-d wants me to receive a present, this is a very strange way for Him to go about giving it. Tzara’at comes as punishment for a sin. The Talmud (Eruchin 16a) lists a number of sins for which negaim come. So which way is it? Is tzara’at coming for a sin or is it coming as a way to provide a treasure? The answer is that with the nega of tzara’at on one’s house, which is the first level of punishment for lashon hara, if a person then responds and rectifies his ways, he can turn that punishment into a merit. Therefore, it is appropriate for this correct response to merit the treasures that the inhabitants of Canaan left behind. Over one year ago, the COVID 19 pandemic hit us hard. We must rectify our ways in order to “find the treasure.” Whether our personal sins are lashon hara, sinat hinam— baseless hatred, or anything else, we must look at ourselves and fix our behavior to turn this plague into something positive. Hashem, with His infinite kindness, is sending us a message to change our ways in order to bring Mashiah speedily in our days!! May we all be careful with the words that come out of our mouths. Words can be very dangerous; they can break up families and cause irreversible harm! May we all strive to cast a good eye on others and to avoid speaking lashon hara, and thus protect all of Klal Yisrael from the severe penalties that come from speaking ill of one another! And may we be able to turn this plague around and find the treasure of Mashiah who’s waiting just around the corner! Amen! Shabbat Shalom! Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey Discussion Points:
Are we familiar with the halachot of lashon hara?
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