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Parashat Metzora deals with the purification ritual for a leper (probably not the illness we know as leprosy today, but rather a sufferer of tzara'at from last week's portion) as well as with houses which seem to be affected by a similar plague. Metzora concludes with other emissions which cause impurity.

Another voice

Metzora by Adina Berkowitz :: 5768

Adena Berkowitz, an independent consultant, received her masters and doctorate from the Jewish Theological Seminary and law degree from Yeshiva University's Cardozo School of Law. Together with Rivka Haut, she is co-editor of Shaarei Simcha, a halakhic inclusive mini siddur, and is completing work on a family Passover Haggadah with original commentary. She and her husband Rabbi Zev Brenner live in New York with their five children.

Parshat Metzorah, usually read in non leap years together with Tazria, continues some of the themes from the previous Torah portion. In this parsha, we read about purification rites and the reintegration of the individual who is suffering from a serious skin disease that is highly contagious, back into society. The parsha also describes a type of affliction that affects someone's home- in modern terms we might see it as a form of severe mould that is very insidious --and the ways the priest was to purify the house. The parsha concludes with how to handle those who are tammei - ritually impure from menstrual blood and seminal emissions.

Linguistically, the rabbis picked up on the title of this week's parsha - metzora, which often means leper - and tied it into the Hebrew word for one who gossips, motzi shem ra. In the Midrash Leviticus Rabbah, tzaraat is seen as a form of punishment for those who engage in gossip - because like tzaraat, gossip is highly contagious. The rabbis bring various proof texts, including references to our great leaders Miriam and Moses, to show how even they were afflicted after they spoke ill of others. In this parsha, I think the midrashic interpretation linking tzaraat and gossip is an attempt to raise a red flag to the terrible damage that gossip can cause to individuals, families and institutions. A person's life can be destroyed in one moment because of a remark, a false report, because of lashon hara.

For example, in 1984, in the United States, then Secretary of Labor Raymond Donovan was indicted by the Bronx, NY District Attorney, charged with grand larceny and falsifying documents in connection with work that his former company did with the New York Transit Authority. Two and a half years later, after he was acquitted of all charges, he remarked, "Which office do I go to to get my reputation back?" Donovan's words illustrate the quandary that our society faces. In our pursuit of information and truth, whether in the courtroom, newspapers, the internet, the Jewish community or in our homes and offices, we often leave the parties who are the object of our attention feeling aggrieved , with reputations damaged, even in cases where the party has done no wrong.

Over a hundred years ago Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan was worried about the power of language, and our everyday speech in which we deliberately pass on derogatory information, whether true or not. In response to what he saw as the proliferation of damaging and, therefore, forbidden speech in his Eastern European Jewish community, he published a book called Chofetz Chaim. He classified three types of forbidden speech: lashon hara, truthful but derogatory and damaging information or statements made to another; rechilut: reporting and peddling to someone what others have said or done against that person which, even if not derogatory, can cause ill will and animosity; and the third category, motzi shem ra, slander: repeating false (or even partially false), malicious, derogatory information.

Once he saw one of his wealthy supporters taking great care in composing a telegram. Concerned that their discussion about a certain person was about to veer into the zone of lashon hara, the Chofetz Chaim said to his contributor, "It looks like you are weighing every word of that telegram". "Indeed I am," replied the man. "Each word costs money". Replied the Chofetz Chaim, "Then we should be as careful in our speech as we are when we are sending a telegram."

In the years which have passed since the Chofetz Chaim's book appeared, the world has gone through major technological changes. From telephones, radio, TV, to 24 hour news channels and the internet with ever increasing numbers of blogs, the town square and the general store have been supplanted by a vast global village. All it takes is one strike of the computer keyboard and the entire world can know the latest news and with it the latest scandal. Given the ease in which we can become partners to the proliferation of damaging and malicious information, it is appropriate for each one of us to study and re-study the Chofetz Chayim's work: to guard our tongues against loose speech, false speech, gossip and talebearing. This parsha should influence us not only to avoid forbidden speech but also to focus on lashon tov- beneficial speech. Let us endeavor to find good things to say about people and count our words very carefully when we have something negative to relate.


More by Adina Berkowitz

Another voice by Adam Kraus

The Haftarah tells a strange story of how Samaria, under siege by the Arameans, was saved from famine by a group of lepers.

The king and his courtiers had refused to believe the prophet Elisha when he told them that God would send help. The lepers - thinking to desert the starving city and save themselves - made their way to the Aramean camp and discovered that the besieging army had fled. After beginning to take the spoils for themselves they realised that informing the city officials would be the right thing to do. 'This is a day of good news, and we are keeping silent!?' The city officials once more responded with disbelief until it had been proven to them beyond doubt that a miracle had taken place.

The story is extraordinary: God chooses to work his salvation through society's most despised and shunned elements in order to demonstrate to the city's rulers that they do not have the qualities necessary to rule. It is also a stunning assertion of the moral rectitude of the lepers, who had no reason to thank their society for anything.

'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven ... blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth'. (Matthew 5.3, 5)


More by Adam Kraus

Other Divrei Torah on Metzora

  • 5766 (Ellen Dreskin)
  • 5766 (Daniel Roth)
  • 5767 (Marc Soloway)
  • 5767 (Taste of Limmud Team)
  • 5769 (Gregg Drinkwater)
  • 5769 (Taste of Limmud Team)
  • 5770 (Nina J Mizrachi)
  • 5770 (David Renton)
  • 5771 (Zvi Solomons)
  • 5771 (Taste of Limmud Team)
  • 5772 (Yaffa Epstein)
  • 5772 (Taste of Chavruta)
  • 5773 (Alex Israel)
  • 5773 (Alicia Jo Rabins)
  • 5774 (Albert Ringer)
  • 5775 (Daniel Roth)
  • 5775 (Limmud On One Leg Team)