The Torah speaks of a Divine affliction called Tzara’as, a visible blemish on a person’s skin, clothing, or walls of their home that creates intense spiritual impurity upon the carrier. There are many complex laws listed in this week and last week’s Torah readings for returning the afflicted person to purity. One of the more straightforward rules is the following: the blemish of Tzara’as might be a small little mark, but nonetheless it makes the stricken person’s entire body spiritually impure.
Our Sages say that one of the major reasons a person might suffer from Tzara’as is for speaking Lashon Hara, negative, hurtful speech about another. Rabbi Yochanan Zweig draws an insightful connection between hurtful speech and Tzara’as, explaining how the punishment fits the crime.
Negative speech can create a powerful yet false illusion, even if the story told is completely true. If I hear that Frank fudged some numbers on his taxes, my mind begins to define Frank as completely dishonest, a cheater, a thief. In truth, Frank might be a wonderful guy — volunteers his time at a soup kitchen, is a loving father and spouse, a great asset at the office — but when I hear about the incident with his taxes, even if it’s true, I focus on that single wrongdoing and I lose sight of who Frank really is, of the big picture.
G-d sends an important message through Tzara’as — take the whole person into account, pass no judgments based on your isolated view. You’ve seen how unpleasant it is to be quarantined for a small blemish!
Rabbi Mordechai Dixler
Program Director, Project Genesis – Torah.org