This week’s Torah portion, Metzorah, arrives amidst a number of Torah portions that are quite often difficult to reconcile with modern thinking.
In last week’s portion we learned about the signs of the metzora, a condition that is the result, the Torah tells us, of a spiritual malady which puts the person in a state of ritual impurity.
This week we hear how the person who is recovered from the tzaraath is cleansed by the Kohen, the priest, with an elaborate ritual involving two birds, some spring water in an earthen vessel, cedar, a red thread, and some hyssop.
When a person is declared a metzora, they are forced out of the community. They are shunned and tear their clothes like those who are in mourning. They have to call out “Impure! Impure!” to warn others to keep their distance.
We also learn this week that the affliction that can cause a person to manifest signs of metzora can also afflict a person’s clothes and even their home! This is very interesting.
And this is the message I was able to take from the portion this week:
We are told by the Sages in the Talmud that there may be many reasons for a person developing the signs of the metzora and the tzaraath is a punishment for having an evil tongue, for lashon hara, for speaking behind another’s back.
Now, whether this disease or whatever it was is a literal punishment for someone speaking behind someone else’s back is not for me to say. The Torah says what the Torah says.
However, the truth of the matter as it appears to me is that there is a strong and obvious correlation between what happens when a person engages in lashon hara and when a person is declared a metzora.
Using wrong speech, spreading gossip and being dishonest has consequences. Think about how this can be true. When (and I say when because I do it too, NO one is perfect!) I engage in lashon hara, I am doing something socially damaging. I disrupt relationships and build walls between people. It can affect my relationships, even those in my own home.
By engaging in lashon hara I can endanger my livelihood, losing my friends, and maybe even my job. What I am getting at is that a person who compulsively engages in lashon hara, well, their worldview seems to look a lot like someone who has been declared a metzora: all alone, no job, no friends, destitute.
Our actions, and even our speech have effects that we can’t comprehend. It is well within the realm of possibility to lose one’s livelihood over misspoken remarks. I ask you to be aware of those times we speak out of turn, and to remember the power that our words have, both over the lives of others, and the power that they have over our own lives, and the role of the Kohen, the role of our ability to bring healing and forgiveness and inclusion.
Written by Michael S.