The Power of Speech by Avi Finkelstein


Parashat Tazria teaches that one who violates the Aveirah of speaking Lashon Hara receives Tzara’at, a divine affliction of the skin. Tzara’at greatly differs from other physical ailments in that it is only an issue when a Kohen declares it to be one. The Pasuk tells us, “VeRa’ahu HaKohen VeTimei Oto,” “The Kohen will look at him and declare him impure” (VaYikra 13:3). Regarding most external illnesses, either you have it, or you do not have it, and a doctor’s diagnosis does add or take away from that fact. Why is Tzara’at an exception? Furthermore, Tzara’at is a marking  sent by Hashem; therefore, why does a Kohen have the power, with a mere declaration, to confirm or reject a divine judgment? Why is so much power put into a mortal’s word?

Recent studies regarding cyber-bullying have attempted to explain why there are so many more cases of hurtful comments communicated over social networks than in person. These studies explain that bullying from behind one’s screen is so much easier than bullying in person, because a cyber-bully does not have to feel guilty in seeing his victim’s devastation. If a bully does not see the embarrassed look on his victim’s face, it is much easier to convince himself that his comments caused no harm.

Rav Dr. Abraham J. Twerski explains that Lashon HaRa allows a person to fall into the same trap as cyber-bullying. When one speaks Lashon HaRa about another person behind his back, he is under the false impression that what he said was insignificant and will not really hurt the victim. One who speaks Lashon HaRa disregards the importance of Shemirat HaLashon, being careful of one’s language, and becomes lax in his speech; therefore, he must be reminded of the unique power of the spoken word. As a direct response to his sin, one who speaks Lashon HaRa is forced into a situation where one man’s word will decide his fate. Based on the Kohen’s declaration, a speaker of Lashon HaRa will either be isolated from the community, or be allowed to continue living his regular life. This scenario serves as a reminder that a single man’s words can have a huge impact, for the good or for the bad.

We should learn from the Torah’s description of Lashon HaRa the importance of using our words to heal, and not to hurt. In doing so we will hopefully cause a greater sense of unity amongst all Jews. 

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