Parashat Taazria Messora- Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones but Words….MATTER.
As we transition from Parashat Shemini on to Parshiot Taazria and Messora, we may ask ourselves what connects the two Parshiot? Parashat Shemini just ended with halakhot of kosher animals while Parashat Taazria begins with halakhot pertaining to the birth of a human being. While Parashat Shemini speaks about animals, Parshiot Taazria and Messora focus on Benei Adam, human beings. What makes us humans different from animals is one thing—the faculty of speech. Parashat Shemini teaches us what to put in our mouths while Parshiot Taazria and Messora teach us what should come out of our mouths.
Parashat Messora explains to us the halakhot of saraat, leprosy, which is attained as a result of speaking lashon hara. If a person is to speak even one word of lashon hara, a physical manifestation of their sin appears on their skin in the form of saraat. A Kohen then announces to the entire Benei Yisrael that this person is impure, shaves all the hair on their body, including their head and eyebrows, and places them in herem, excommunication, alone for seven entire days.
Such a punishment for one word of lashon hara?? He just said ONE sentence! What he said was true anyways! Why is his punishment so harsh? Because by speaking lashon hara, one promotes divisiveness among others, so therefore now he is divided from everybody else and deserves to sit alone and feel what it is like to be isolated from others.
There was once a slanderer among a community that would go around and spread malicious lies about people of the community. After a while, he began to see the effects of his negative speech and felt remorse over his actions. He wanted to fix this. And so this man hurries over to a Rav and asks him sincerely what he can do to mend the situation. The Rav advises him to take a pillowcase and fill it with feathers and then to open the pillowcase in the street, letting the feathers fly out, and then to report back to him. The man rushes home and does exactly as he is told. He comes back to the Rav and asks, ‘Now what?’ The Rav instructs him, ‘Now go back and collect all the feathers you let fly out.’
Needless to say, he couldn’t.
The effects of lashon hara are irreversible. We must be very careful with what words come out of our mouths, because many times we cannot retrieve them. We must realize how serious lashon hara is. Lashon hara is a real averah. Just like being mehallel Shabbat and eating taref (non-kosher), lashon hara has the same ramifications. The Hafess Haiim tells us that we must even be prepared to give up our jobs in order not to speak or hear lashon hara, just like we would give up our jobs in order not to work on Shabbat.
If we realize what speech is, we would be more careful in how we speak to others. Speech is nothing but a concentrated rendition of our thoughts. It’s not just words. It’s a representation of our thoughts, how we think. The point is to purify our thoughts and only then our speech will come out pure.
We must love every single Jew, every single creation of HaShem. We must not have thoughts of revenge or hold onto grudges. If this is what goes on in our hearts and our head, then don’t you think it would slip out of our mouths as well? When we look at everyone positively, by default our speech will be purified.
Lashon hara is extremely serious. Just imagine every single time a person would speak lashon hara, they would get saraat that is clearly visible to everybody and have to spend seven days excommunicated. Just imagine the embarrassment and the isolation this person would experience because they spoke in a way that made their fellow look negative. If speaking lashon hara deserves such a punishment, just think to yourself how severe the averah, sin, is!
Lashon hara isn’t just speaking it, it’s also hearing it. It is considered lashon hara even if it’s true! Even if you would say the same information in front of the person themselves, it is still asur. The rule of thumb is, if what you are about to say will cause negativity, it is forbidden. Whether it makes someone look negative, or gives someone pain or hurt, speaking with coarse language, or if it is revealing one’s secret or even misrepresenting the truth, it is all considered lashon hara.
The pasuk tells us ‘Shomer piv u’leshono, Shomer missarot Nafsho’. A person who protects their mouth and tongue from speaking negatively, protects their Neshamah from pain and suffering. We have to realize that we not only must be careful with what we put in our mouths, but also what comes out of our mouths. If we want to daven with our mouths and ask HaKadosh Barukh Hu to help us and answer our tefillot, we cannot use that same mouth to speak lashon hara. By speaking lashon hara, we dirty the very tool we are supposed to be using to bring nahat to our Creator, to sing and daven to Him!
Be’Ezrat HaShem may we all internalize the severity of speaking lashon hara and in zekhout of protecting our mouths, we will also protect our Neshamot. May our thoughts be purified so that there will be kedushah in every word we speak. Let’s ensure that every word we speak is well thought out so that we may be zokhim to bring Mashiah and use those very mouths to sing in the Beit HaMikdash BeKarov, Amen!
Wishing everybody a Shabbat Shalom u’Mevorakh!