Parashas Tazria-Metzora

This week’s double parashah deals with tzaraas, a skin disease that would come upon a person for engaging in loshon hara (evil speech) or comitting certain other offenses (Arachin 16a lists six others – murder, false swearing, immoral relations, haughtiness, theft, and stinginess). Below I present three teachings from the Maggid relating to tzaraas and loshon hara.
1. Tzaraas is a terrifying disease, but our Sages tell us that if we are worthy, we need not fear being stricken with it. The Midrash puts the point this way (Vayikra Rabbah 15:4): “It is like a distinguished lady who enters a king’s royal chamber and sees whips hung on the wall. She is terrified, but the king assures her: ‘Do not be afraid. These are for the servants and maids, but you will dine and rejoice.’ … Thus, it is written (Tehillim 32:10): ‘Many torments are directed at the wicked, but as for he who trusts in Hashem, kindness surrounds him.’”
The Maggid explains this Midrash as follows. Everyone sins to some degree; even the most righteous person is not free of fault. Thus, Shlomo HaMelech teaches (Koheles 7:20): “There is no righteous person in the world who does [only] good and does not sin.” Hence, everyone must face affliction on occasion, to guide him to the proper path when he strays. However, the afflictions that Hashem deploys range widely in their severity. Thus, the Gemara in Arachin 16b states that the term “affliction” applies even to such minor annoyances as trying to take three coins out of one’s pocket and coming up with only two.
For a wicked person, a gentle hint is not enough. Hashem must subject him to terrible afflictions, such as tzaraas, to wake him up and make him recognize the evil of his ways. But a righteous person, who puts his trust in Hashem and is constantly aware of how Hashem lovingly watches over him, does not need a beating when he sins to alert him of his lapse. Hashem can continue granting him kindnesses, and a minor annoyance is enough to prompt him to scrutinize his ways and make the necessary improvements.
2. Shlomo HaMelech exhorts (Koheles 5:5): “Do not let your mouth bring guilt on your flesh.” The Midrash, in Devarim Rabbah 6:10, teaches that this verse concerns people who speak loshon hara. The Maggid interprets this teaching as follows. The sin of loshon hara is very severe – on a par with lying, or perhaps even worse. Hence, when a person speaks loshon hara, he is broadcasting that he is, in an overall sense, a wanton sinner; he is issuing an indictment against his “flesh,” i.e., his entire being. Shlomo is telling us to avoid bringing guilt on ourselves in this manner, by taking great care not to commit the sin of evil speech.
3. The Midrash states (Bereishis Rabbah 79:1): “‘From the whip of the tongue you shall hide’ (Iyov 5:21). Said R. Acha: ‘An evil tongue is so grievous that the one who created it made along with it a place to hide.’” This Midrash is interpreted by the commentators in various ways; the Maggid offers a novel approach. He builds on the fact that the phasing in the verse is not mi’shoht but rather b’shoht (literally, “with the whip”). Wanton loshon hara is such a grievous sin, he explains, that the very act of speaking it proves that the speaker cannot be trusted. Thus, the lashing tongue, as it puts out its evil words, automatically creates along with them a “place” where the listener can hide from them, so that they make no impression on him at all.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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