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Parashiyot Tazria/Metzora

Tazria - Leviticus 12:1-13:59; 2 kings 4:42-5:19; Matthew 8:1-4 Metzora - Leviticus 14:1-15:33; 2 kings 7:3-20; Matthew 23:16-24:2

Just about everyone would like to make the world a better place. However, we are often stuck on the question, "What can I do?" One thing we can all do -- be more careful with how we speak. A wrong word can end a marriage, a friendship, a relationship. The Torah is very strong and direct in guiding us. The Torah uses the term Lashon Hara ("evil tongue") when admonishing us regarding derogatory speech.

The Torah has three classifications of Lashon Hara. The first, classical Lashon Hara -- what one says is true, but defamatory. The second, Motzie Shem Ra, ("bringing out a bad name") -- defaming through a lie. The third, Rechilus, ("tale bearing") -- telling someone what another person did or said about them. All of them are forbidden. One is not allowed to speak, listen to or believe Lashon Hara -- except for very specific situations to prevent loss and damage.

Lashon Hara destroys friendships, bankrupts businesses, ruins marriages and shortens lives. The Talmud tells us that we, the Jewish people, are in exile because of it (Yoma, 9b; Gitin 57b). There are 17 prohibitions from the Torah and 14 positive commandments which may be violated when one speaks or listens to Lashon Hara.

Included amongst the negative commandments are: "You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people" (Leviticus 19:16), "You shall not utter a false report" (Exodus 23:1), "You shall not profane My holy name" (Leviticus 22:32). Amongst the positive commandments that may be violated: "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18), "In righteousness shall you judge your neighbor" (Leviticus 19:15), "The Lord your God shall you fear" (Deuteronomy 10:20) and "Walk in His ways" (Deuteronomy 28:9).

If you really care about the world, humanity, ecosystems, poverty, health, education, perfecting the world, being happy and creating happiness for others -- then the place to start is with your mouth, guarding your tongue. The Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation, an organization established to promote proper speech puts it elegantly, "God desires that people live together in peace and unity, and the laws of proper speech are the Torah's way to achieve this. Actually, it is a simple principle: If one removes gossip, slander, divisiveness and anger from one's vocabulary, one automatically and dramatically improves one's own life and the lives of everyone in one's environment."

Ours is an age of instant gratification -- or at least the desire for it. People also want instant spirituality. They want something that will give them instant communication with God and a feeling of Godliness. In the immortal words of the ages, there are no free lunches. Spirituality and Godliness take knowledge and work on oneself -- one's character traits. Being careful in one's speech IS a genuine way to be spiritual, to come close to God. Try it. See what it does for you, your family, your relationships -- and your relationship with the Almighty. ESSENTIAL LAWS CONCERNING SPEECH

1. You are forbidden to make a derogatory comment -- the person did something wrong, has faulty character traits or lacks a virtue -- even if it's true. 2. Any comment, even if not derogatory, that might ultimately cause financial loss, physical pain, mental anguish or any damage is forbidden. 3. Any method of conveying or implying derogatory information about others is forbidden: writing, hand motions, facial expressions. 4. One is not allowed to relate derogatory information even in jest. 5. Even if the derogatory statement won't cause damage or loss, it is forbidden. 6. When it is necessary for someone to know derogatory information for a constructive purpose, you are obligated to relate the information to him, i.e. someone is planning to cheat or harm another person. The Torah continues with the laws of physical and spiritual purity. The focus of this portion is upon tzora'as, a supernatural physical affliction sent to warn someone to refrain from speaking badly about others. The disease progressively afflicted home, clothes and then one's skin -- unless the individual corrected his ways and followed the purification process stated in the Torah.

The Torah states: "And the priest shall command to take for him who is to be purified two birds alive and pure, and cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop." (Leviticus 14:4)

What lessons about life do we learn from these?

Rashi, the great commentator, cites the Sages that the cedar symbolizes arrogance (a cedar tree is tall and "haughty"). Tzora'as comes from arrogance and the contempt for others which allows him to talk negatively about others.

The Chofetz Chaim commented that someone who speaks against others views himself as above other people and therefore feels that he has a right to say negative things about them. If he were aware of his own faults and limitations, he would not seek out the faults of others.

What is the cure? He should work on humility, which is symbolized by the scarlet that is made from a lowly worm and the use of hyssop which is a small, low bush. (The two live chirping birds are symbolic of the chatter of idle gossip.)

Our lesson: Be aware of one's own faults and limitations rather than focusing on the faults of others.

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