Tazria Leviticus 12:1 to 13:59
M’tzora – Leviticus 14:1 to 15:33
The text describes a disease similar to Leprosy. Even though there is no mention of gossip or lashon hara (negative speech) in this week’s text, commentators have tied this ailment to the sin of gossip/ lashon hara.
This week we read a double portion. After reading these two parshot –Tazria and M’tzora – it is easy to understand why they are combined. Most of both portions deal with the subject of what the text calls Leprosy. (There is a question of whether the disease described is Leprosy or some other skin ailment.)
First, this text is not a medical statement. The ailment is described … in greater detail than anyone really needs. But, there is no reference to any treatment. We are only told that the affected person must be separated from the community until the symptoms disappear or are reduced. In reality, the disease is not as contagious as many other ailments. However, because it is a “ritual impurity,” any person who comes in contact with an infected person, immediately becomes “ritually impure” and cannot take part in any Tabernacle activities. This threat of not being able to join the community at the Tabernacle makes this a disease that is feared.
We are also told that if an infected fabric or structure is found, it is to be destroyed if the symptoms do not disappear …. It can be said that if this were a medical statement, why is this the only ailment covered in Torah. There were many other diseases that plagued the peoples of this time… many more contagious and dangerous that the disease described.
Because the punishment for having this disease was so great – separation from the community until the symptoms disappeared – Torah commentators desired to discover a reason for the disease and the severity of the punishment.
Students of Torah found two places where this white scaly ailment was mentioned. In Numbers (Num. 12:1) when Miriam gossips about Moses’ wife, God inflicts her with this skin disorder as a punishment. Then in Exodus (4:1-9) God tells Moses to go to Pharaoh and make his rod turn into a snake. Then, cause the Nile to turn to blood. But Moses asks what if the people do not believe me and say “The Eternal did not appear to you.” For presupposing what the people would think, God asked Moses to put his hand to his breast and his hand was covered with white scales. God than told Moses to put his hand back on his breast and the scales disappeared….. Because this incident involving the scaly hand did not occur when Moses met Pharaoh and not part of the first plague, Rabbi Lord Sacks, in an article from Aish.com, stated that the scaly ailment that Moses experienced was a punishment for telling God what the people would think, without actually knowing the facts. (http://www.aish.com/tp/i/sacks/On-Leadership-The-Price-of-Free-Speech.html )
While nowhere in the text of the parshot we are reading this week is there any indication that gossip or lashon hara (negative speech) is the cause of this ailment, biblical commentators have linked it to this skin disease. They noted that the results of gossip can be as damaging as any physical wrongs. The power of words can injure, destroy reputations, and even kill people if wrongly used. In his Aish.com article, Rabbi Lord Sacks tells us about Hannah Smith, a fourteen-year-old schoolgirl living in Lutterworth, England, who committed suicide. Seeking to unravel what happened, her family soon discovered that she had been the target of anonymous abusive posts on a social network website.
The problem of gossip or lashon hara is as much a problem today as it was at the time of Moses, three centuries ago. But now, this lashon hara can be carried out, anonymously, behind the veil of the Internet. And, the results can be even more damaging.
By linking gossip to the disease featured in this week’s text, the problem is brought to the awareness of the community. While the punishments (banishment from the community if a white scale as described is found) disappeared with the destruction of the Temple, the issue of gossip and what it can do are brought to the attention of the community and discussed at least once a year. Then, hopefully this message will be remembered throughout the year.