Humble Speech by Marc Poleyeff


Parashat Metzora, the second of the two Parshiyot we read this week, deals mainly with the laws of Tzaraat. The Pasuk states, “VeTzivah HaKohen VeLakach LaMitaheir Shetei Tziporim Chayot Tehorot,” “The Kohen shall command and take on behalf of he who is becoming pure two live, clean birds” (VaYikra 14:4). Rashi explains that the birds are reflective of the sin which caused the person to be afflicted with Tzarrat. Just as the person receiving Tzaraat spoke without purpose, so too the atonement comes about by sacrificing a bird that chirps without a purpose. Rav Shlomo Gantzfried, the author of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, poses three questions regarding this Pasuk. First, why does the Torah require two birds in this process; is one bird not sufficient? Furthermore, why was one bird sacrificed and one bird sent free? Lastly, why did Chazal rule that the free bird should be sent specifically to the fields rather than a city or the wilderness?

The Meforshim explain that the rationale behind the sacrificial service is to bring the Metzora to improve himself so that he won’t repeat his Aveirah.  In theory, the sinner should have been obligated to personally experience the entire process of atonement and be slaughtered to Hashem. However, Hashem had mercy on this individual and allowed him to sacrifice an animal instead. Thus, had the Torah mandated only one bird, the Metzora might conclude that since he sinned through speech, he should remain silent for the rest of his life to avoid repeating the sin. The Torah therefore demands that the sinner bring two birds, one which would be kept alive, to symbolize that speech can be used for constructive purposes and to bring life to man. And when man uses his speech for Torah and not gossip, he fulfills the words of Shelomo HaMelech, “For death and life are in the hands of the tongue” (Mishlei 18:21).

Moreover, it is insufficient for man to achieve atonement by just understanding this concept. Even one who uses his mouth solely for Torah can remain distant from the level of perfection desired. The Torah therefore instructs the Kohen to bring the bird to the field, symbolizing that man must also strive to remain humble, like those who dwell in the fields while studying Torah so as not to draw attention to their scholarship.

These two traits, humility and Lashon Tov, go hand in hand. One who is humble is unlikely to speak disparagingly of others and will instead focus on the positive aspects of speech, such as Talmud Torah. Shemirat HaLashon is a challenge, but developing a sense of humility goes a long way towards achieving this golden quality.

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