The primary topic in this week’s Torah reading is the laws of Tzara’as, a unique skin affliction. One who contracted this illness with qualifying symptoms, must follow certain laws of impurity and remain outside certain areas of civilization, until he or she is cured and rendered pure again. When one suspects that he has been afflicted with this disease, he is obligated to go to the Kohen (a descendant of Aaron the High Priest, who is a member of the priestly tribe), and the Kohen determines whether it actually qualifies as Tzara’as. If indeed the Kohen determines that it is Tzra’as, the Kohen pronounces that he is impure. In addition, the Kohen rebukes the one who is afflicted and says, “It is because you have spoken “Lashon Hara” that you have been penalized by suffering this disease.” (See Toras Kohanim, Parshas Metzorah, Parshasah 5.) The term “Lashon Hara” refers to the prohibition against evil speech. This prohibition could be briefly described as follows: To refrain from saying anything that could cause (unjust) harm in any way to someone or anything that will reflect negatively about someone. (There are limited exceptions for constructive purposes, so long as specific guidelines are followed.) Since the Torah dedicated a set of complex laws for this special affliction which is reserved primarily for Lashon Harah, it is most definitely deserving of some investigation.
If we were to be asked what is the most severe transgression in the Torah, we would likely answer one of the three cardinal sins for which one must give up his or her life, if necessary, so as not to commit them: Murder, idol worship and engaging in certain forbidden relationships. Surprisingly, the Jerusalem Talmud tells us (Pe’ah 1:1) that Lashon Hara is the worst of them all. What is it about Lashon Hara that makes it so severe? To explain this, the Chofetz Chaim (in Shmiras Haloshon chapter 1) draws a parallel between this transgression and the Mitzvah (fulfillment of God’s command) of Torah study. We are taught that the Mitzvah of Torah Study is the greatest Mitzvah (see Jerusalem Talmud ibid). One of the factors that make this Mitzvah so great is the fact that its fulfillment requires very limited physical involvement. As we see, the greatest forces of nature, such as fire and fierce storm winds, have a minimum of physicality associated with them. So too, in the spiritual world, actions which have little or no physicality, have a greater spiritual effect. Therefore, Torah study, which is
An Insightful Torah Thought Parshas Tazria 5779/2019 accomplished with one’s words and mind alone, has a far greater positive impact than Mitzvos which require more physical activity. Similarly, Lashon Hara, which is committed through one’s mere words and requires no physical action, has far worse detrimental consequences than other transgressions which can only be accomplished with more physical involvement. Hence, harmful and hurtful speech may be far more damaging than what we have ever imagined.
The truth of the matter is that we don’t have to climb up to the higher spheres to see what kind of devastating results this improper behavior can lead to. To illustrate the damage which evil speech could cause, in a more tangible way, our sages point to a devastating episode in our nation’s history which occurred as a result of Lashon Hara (recorded in the book of Samuel 1, chapter 22). For quite a while, King Saul pursued King David, fearing that David would take away his throne. At the onset of this saga, King David met with Achimelech – the High Priest at that time. Achimelech, was unaware of the tension between King David and King Saul, and innocently provided David with food and a sword. A man named Doeg Ha’edomi, decided to be overly zealous about protecting King Saul’s honor, and informed King Saul about the encounter Achimelech had with David. Upon hearing this, King Saul accused Achimelech of conspiring with David against him. King Saul took a drastic measure and ordered the entire city of Nov, the city of Achimelech, to be executed, as a warning to all.
We are all aware of how Lashon Hara has destroyed relationships between loved ones and how it has led to many tragedies throughout the generations. There is so much trouble in life that one could attribute directly to evil speech. When one speaks negatively about someone else, generally they are not aware of the grave consequences it will carry. It is usually nothing more than a slip of the tongue that wreaks havoc. By instilling in ourselves the severity of the matter, we will come to think twice before a comment that reflects negatively about someone, leaves our mouths. The less we talk negatively of others, the better off we will be, both in this world and in the next world.
By Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber