Parashas Metzora

Parashas Metzora continues the discussion begun in parashas Tazria regarding the skin disease tzaraas. The Gemara in Arachin 15b lists several offenses for which a person is stricken with tzaraas. One of these offenses is evil speech (lashon hara). The root cause of evil speech, the Maggid explains, is hatred that a person harbors in his heart against his fellow man. Such hatred is often triggered by jealousy, which, our Sages say (Avos 4:21), drives a person out of the world. If a person who engages in evil speech were aware of the powerful effect of his words – the indictments against him in heaven and the damage he causes to himself through his evil speech – he would not allow himself to speak evil even against someone he thoroughly hates. For the evil words he speaks against someone he hates to disgrace him cause great harm even to those he loves, and, indeed, to the entire world. The Midrash reflects this principle. Regarding the wicked man, it is written (Tehillim 50:20): “You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your mother’s son (בְּבֶן אִמְּךָ).” The Midrash expounds (Devarim Rabbah 6:9): “If you accustom your tongue to speaking evil against someone who is not of your people (בֶּן אֻמָּתְךָ), in the end you will come to slander those who are of your people.”
Right before the verse that this Midrash quotes, it is written (Tehillim 50:19): “You dispatched your mouth toward evil, and your tongue adheres to deceit.” The Maggid explains the two verses as follows. A person who engages in evil speech might think he can limit the scope of his aspersion and direct it only toward evildoers. But he is deceiving himself. Ultimately he will also cast aspersion against men of good character.
In order to punish the person who speaks evil and to demonstrate the powerful negative effect that words can have, Hashem smites him with the disease of tzaraas. The status of a person with a tzaraas-like lesion depends on the word of the Kohen who renders a ruling on the lesion. If the Kohen declares him defiled, he is defiled, and if the Kohen declares him pure, he is pure. Indeed, Mishnah Negaim 3:1 teaches that, although anyone is qualified to examine a tzaraas-like lesion and tell the Kohen how to rule, the status of the afflicted person as defiled or pure is determined solely by the Kohen’s declaration. Similarly, when a person with tzaraas believes he is healed, he must go to a Kohen and have the Kohen declare him healed. In this way, the tzaraas sufferer learns the power of words, and in the future will restrain himself from evil speech.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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