“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” So goes the common proverb – a classic tidbit of childish nonsense. True, it rhymes, but the rhyme is completely false. Words hold more power than we can imagine. A simple comment can hurt more than a knife to the flesh. As we have no doubt all heard before, it is imperative that we closely monitor each word we say, an idea which plays a major role in this week’s Parsha.
Parshat Tazria opens with the laws concerning a woman who gives birth. Immediately following this topic are the laws regarding Tzaraat. Why would the Torah jump from babies to biblical diseases? What relationship could these two seemingly unrelated topics share that the Torah would juxtapose them?
Yoel Spotts explains that, as mentioned before, the Torah is teaching us to be mindful of our words. In order to understand how this message fits into the juxtaposition of childbirth and Tzaraat, we must first examine the Pesukim that discuss these topics.
Vayikra 12:6 tells us that a woman must bring a Korban Chatat, a sin offering, after she has completed the days of purity required of a woman who has recently given birth. Why would she need to bring a sin offering? She has engaged in the Mitzvah of Pru Urvu, of populating the world! The Gemara (Niddah 31b) explains that a woman in labor can experience many painful sensations throughout her ordeal. During that time, the pain may become so great that she may make a Neder (promise) never to have children again. Of course, after the baby is delivered, the pain is gone and everyone is hopefully safe and sound – and in retrospect, the Neder was in vain. Additionally, she may later have more children, which, though certainly commendable, would be breaking this promise. To atone for such a Neder, the woman must bring a Chatat.
Regarding Tzaraat, the Pesukim tell us all about how to recognize and treat it, yet they do not mention what might cause this ghastly disease. Once again, Rashi comes to the rescue and explains that one possible cause for Tzaraat is the sin of Lashon Hara, harmful talk about others.
Now we can see clearly the connection between these two topics. Both involve the use of words in a careless way. Although it is very understandable, the woman’s lack of care for what she said during her labor led or could lead her to sin. From the Metzora, the person afflicted with Tzaraat, we see how severe the consequences of such carelessness with words can be.
In Torah Academy, the students are on a campaign to put a dent in the amount of Lashon Hara that is spoken. For half an hour each day, many students have taken on the challenge of paying extra care to the words they say. Thirty minutes may not seem like much, but every effort goes a long way toward Tikun Olam, making the world a better place. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words can affect our souls.