Torah Portion: Tazria (Conceived) and Metzora (Leper) (Leviticus) Vayikra 12-15
Haftorah Reading: II Kings 4:42-5:19 and II Kings 7:3-20
Tonight we read two Torah Portions concerning clean and unclean items and people. Remember, this condition of being unclean does not necessarily mean sin has occurred. Usually it is a result of just living in the world or natural bodily functions such as we see here tonight.
However, as with leprosy it can be brought on by the sin of “lashon harah” or an evil tongue. This is related to gossip or talking badly about someone or in some cases about something. The most obvious example is the case of Miriam, the sister of Moshe. We read about this in Numbers/B’Midbar 12:1-10. When we read these verses we read where Aaron and Miriam were talking about Moshe marrying a Cusite woman. G-d judged Miriam by causing her to have leprosy. Scripture says she became white as snow and was restored only when Moshe prayed for her. We also see where this condition was looked on as if she was dead.
In Exodus 4:1-7 we read where G-d caused Moshe’s hand to become “white as snow” with leprosy. Why did this happen to him? He spoke badly about the people of G-d. When we look at these two cases, it can be seen why leprosy became associated with bad speech or gossip.
Leprosy is also compared to death in scripture. It is as if the person is in the process of dying. For this reason it was one of the most serious things that caused a person to become unclean. The person was cut off from the community, lived alone as an outcast and was only readmitted to fellowship on the conditions he/she was declared clean by the priest. Why was anything connected with death not allowed in the religious life of the community?
G-d is eternal, the source of life and completely holy. Death could not enter before Him. In Matthew 27:45-46 we read where Yeshua, at his death, cried out to G-d, “why have you forsaken Me?” I think part of the explanation is that G-d can’t look upon death.
So, when we read these verses about leprosy and its connection with gossip we ask, “What does gossip have to do with death?” In scripture gossip or lashon hara is not treated lightly. As men and women created in the image of G-d we are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves, to treat everyone with respect, not maligning them in any way. There is an old saying that we have all heard, “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” That isn’t true. Words can hurt. As the people of G-d we are to be examples of Him to the world.
Man is the only creature of G-d’s creation to which the power of speech was granted. Speech is a G-dly activity. However, from almost the beginning we see speech being misused by man. When man sinned by eating of the tree G-d came to Adam and said, “Where are you?” Of course G-d knew where he was both physically and spiritually. Adam was hiding from G-d. Adam, when questioned by G-d, did not answer truthfully but sought to pass blame both to Eve and even to G-d.
We live in the world. We fail sometime because we are not perfect. However, G-d expects us to repent and grow from what we have done. When we gossip G-d expects us to repent and take steps to grow from what we have done. Gossip has a life of its own. It harms not only the person who is the object of the gossip but also the one who speaks it out and the people who hear it. Once spoken words can’t be recovered. We are to be slow to speak, to measure our words, to consider if what we say brings life or death.
I think this is a difficult issue for most of us. I urge us all to not allow ourselves to be caught up in idle or hurtful speech. Once said it has a life of it’s own.