In this week’s Torah reading, Parshas Metzorah, the Torah details the process of purification of the “Metzorah” – someone who was afflicted with Tzara’as (a specific kind of skin disease) and rendered impure. As part of the purification process, the Metzorah is required to bring two birds as a sacrifice.
One of the birds is slaughtered, and the other one is used to sprinkle designated water on the Metozora. Rashi on Parshas Metzorah explains that the birds serve as a sign for the one who is being purified- to remind him of what it is that brought him to this situation in the first place, and to ensure he learns his lesson.
Tzara’as afflicts one who did not guard his tongue and spoke Lashon Hara (evil speech/gossip). Lashon Hara does not have to be in the form of purposely exaggerating one’s misgivings or retelling fabricated slander. Even if all details of the story are true, it is still forbidden to relate negative or harmful information about someone. The Metzorah who suffered the consequences of his deeds has acted like a bird, who chirps on and on without any kind of restraint.
Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz (in Da’as Torah) derives from here an astonishing revelation: The root of the problem of one who engages in Lashon Hara does not stem from cruelty or bad intentions. The primary factor which brought about this misdeed was a lack of attaching proper value to one’s words. The mere fact that one feels that he can speak freely and carelessly is what brings about these shameful acts. If one were to attribute genuine importance to his own words, he would weigh his words carefully and would not be so likely to engage in inappropriate conversation.
It is not for naught that the Rosh (in Orchos Chaim) says, “Extracting words from one’s own mouth should be more difficult in his eyes than extracting money from one’s own wallet.” More often than not, it is negligence and carelessness with one’s words that lead to grave consequences.
Meir Goldstein (names have been changed) used to invite his good friend, Avi Miller, who was still single, to his house. After a while, Avi got married and the Goldsteins invited the newly married couple. At one point during the conversation, Mrs. Goldstein got up and asked to speak to her husband privately in the baby’s room.
As they entered the other room, Mrs. Goldstein started telling Meir, “I can’t believe that Avi ended up with such a wife! He is such a sweet and great guy, and his wife is the complete opposite. She dresses in such an unbecoming way, she has such attitude, and is so unpleasant.”
Meanwhile, the Millers were listening to the whole conversation over the baby monitor that was placed in the room that they were in. That was the last time the Millers entered the Goldsteins’ home.
What we say doesn’t always get back to the person whom we are talking about. However, once the words are out, we have no control over where they end up and the damage that they can cause. It is too often that Lashon Hara leads to irreversible devastating results. Even if our words do not get back to whom they were said about and they don’t cause noticeable harm, we must remember that God is always listening on “His intercom,” and keeping an exact account of every word of slander for which we will have to answer to one day. To talk freely without closely monitoring our words is something we can ill afford, both in this world and in the Next World.
In Parshas Metzorah, we learn that by attributing more significance to our own words, we will be more likely to be on guard with our tongues. With a little bit of awareness and self-control, we can start getting used to the idea that our words are not “free” to use as we may wish. By having our own words become more meaningful to us, we will naturally gain more awareness of what we say. This will surely save ourselves from countless unwanted consequences.