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The “Evil Tongue”

Israel’s Struggle With the “Evil Tongue” by Aviel Schneider |

What is dividing Israel more than anything is the hostile rhetoric, the “evil tongue” being employed against others. And the Bible has much to say on this.

Backbiting, or the Hebrew term “evil tongue - lashon harah,” is on everyone’s lips these days. People talk badly about their neighbor just because they have a different opinion politically and perhaps spiritually. The left-wing media often only reports about the evil on the other side, and the right-wing media does exactly the same thing, only in reverse. Of course, this is nothing new, but in our time the evil tongue is amplified and further twisted by the phenomenon of fake news.

God created the world with words, why do we have to destroy the world with words? I was discussing this with friends on Friday and someone drew a link to the last week’s Torah portion, Tazria-Metzora.

The evil tongue separates people and that is exactly what is so very noticeable in our country today. We speak evil against our neighbor instead of loving our neighbor as ourselves.

My comment:


The Hebrew word ‘Tzara’at’ {צרעת} means ‘leprosy’ and a person who becomes ill with leprosy is called in Hebrew ‘Metzora’ {מצורע} – like the name of the weekly Torah portion. This ‘parasha’ discusses this disease within one of the main frameworks of the Book of Leviticus which are the laws of ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’.

Both the ‘Septuagint’ (the old Greek translation of the Bible) and the ‘Vulgate’ (the old Latin translation of the Bible) translated the Hebrew word ‘Tzara’at’ as ‘leper’ – a skin disease which was common in the ancient world (and even in rare cases today).

In English it is known as ‘leprosy’ or by its medical name ‘Hansen’s disease’. However, the skin disease that the Greeks and Romans called ‘leprae’ is NOT the same disease that appears in Leviticus. We do not know for sure what kind of disease the Torah is talking about and there are several opinions regarding that.

In the Jewish folklore, the biblical ‘Tzara’at’ is known as a ‘spiritual disease’ – meaning it was caused by spiritual reasons such as ‘evil gossiping’, for example, as happened to Miriam, Moses’ sister (Numbers 12:1-13).

In the old Jewish literature, there is a saying which explains the Hebrew name of our weekly Torah portion. ‘Metzora’ {מצורע} is an acronym for ‘MoTZi Shem RA’ {מוציא שם רע} – which means in English ‘to muddy someone’s name’.

To gossip, slander or to ‘muddy’ a person’s name or reputation is a serious offense. In Hebrew, it is known as lashon hara - לשון הרע – an evil tongue and it is the halakhic term for speech about a person or persons that is negative or harmful to them, even though it might be true.

Family, we are all guilty of this at times, to our shame. A person guilty of lashon hara was ‘unclean’ and had to leave the camp of Israel. His uncleanness was evident because it manifested on his or her skin, clothing and even on the walls of their homes. Such a person had to withdraw from fellowship and nearness to the presence of God within the camp. He had to undergo cleansing rituals including a mikveh – a ceremonial ‘washing in water’.

Today, when we commit lashon harah, we do not have to undergo such ceremonial rituals BUT, we are called to repentance.

Proverbs 21:23 – “the one who guards his mouth and tongue keeps himself out of trouble”.

Psalm 141:2-3 – “May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice. 3 Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips.

James 3:8-10 – “but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.

No, not one, for all have fallen short of the glory of God!


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