The Power of Speech by Yakir Forman


The Haftarah of Parashat Metzora tells the story of four Jews afflicted with Tzaraat who were outside Shomron during a siege by the Aramim.  These four realized that due to the lack of food in Shomron, they would probably die soon, and had nothing to lose by surrendering to the Aramim.  When they came to the Arami camp, however, they saw that Hashem had caused the Aramim to flee in haste and leave their camp, with all their food and possessions, to the Jews.  The four discoverers went back to the city gate and relayed the information to the Jews inside, ending the siege and the famine.

The Gemara (Berachot 54a-b) tells another story about Jews afflicted with Tzaraat.  In Parashat Chukat, the Torah quotes a song from Sefer Milchamot Hashem, the Book of the Wars of Hashem, which says, “Et VaHeiv BeSufah” (BeMidbar 21:14), a Pasuk which does not lend itself to an easy literal translation.  The Gemara translates this Pasuk as “Et and Heiv at the end,” explaining that Et and Heiv were two Jews with Tzaraat who were traveling behind Bnei Yisrael.  When Bnei Yisrael had to pass through a mountain’s narrow valley during their travels through the desert, the Emorim tried to ambush Bnei Yisrael by hiding in the mountain’s caves, which were opposite to finger-like protrusions; however, the Aron, traveling in front of Bnei Yisrael, caused the two mountains on either side of the valley to come together, merging the protrusions and the Emori’s caves and killing the Emorim.  Bnei Yisrael passed through unaware of the miracle, but once the two mountains separated again, Et and Heiv saw the Emori blood between the two mountains and realized what had happened.  They told Bnei Yisrael of the miracle, and Bnei Yisrael then sang a song of thanks to Hashem about what happened.

Why were these six Metzoraim, the four in the Haftarah in addition to Et and Heiv, all Zocheh to see Hashem’s great miracles when the rest of Bnei Yisrael heard about them only secondhand?  In his Sefer Torah LaDaat, Rav Mattis Blum explains that the six Metzoraim were afflicted with Tzaraat and exiled from the rest of Bnei Yisrael because they had spoken Lashon HaRa.  They were experiencing the consequences of speech used improperly.  Hashem wished to convey to them the flipside: how powerful speech used correctly can be.  He therefore gave them the opportunity to tell important information to the rest of Bnei Yisrael.  In the Haftarah, the four Metzoraim’s speech caused great happiness to Bnei Yisrael, due to the end of the siege, and a Kiddush Hashem, due to the fulfillment of Elisha’s prophecy, which proclaimed that the famine would end and food in Shomron would once again be affordable.  Et and Heiv, through their speech, caused Bnei Yisrael to institute a song of thanks that would be written in the Torah and last for generations, and also caused Berachot to be recited by whoever passes the spot of the miracle they discovered.  All six Metzoraim were able to accomplish great things through speech spoken correctly.

Using this idea, we can resolve an apparent problem in Haftarat Metzora.  There is a general rule that Haftarot should end on a positive note.  Even in deliberately negative Haftarot, such as Haftarat Chazon and Haftarat Tisha BeAv, the Haftara concludes with two or three positive Pesukim.  The last topic in Haftarat Metzora, however, is the trampling of the Jewish captain who had previously ridiculed Elisha’s prophesying the end of the famine, and the Haftarah ends on the highly negative note of “VaYamot,” “And he died” (Melachim II 7:20).  How can the Haftarah end with this Jew’s death; this ending is not happy?

In his Sefer Bein Haftarah LeParasha, Rav Yehudah Shaviv shows that this Haftarah teaches us an important lesson using “Chatimah MeiEin Petichah,” the Haftarah’s end should parallel its beginning.  Haftarat Metzora begins with the Pasuk, “VeArbaah Anashim Hayu Metzoraim Petach HaShaar,” “There were four men who were afflicted with Tzaraat at the city gate” (Melachim Bet 7:3), referring to the four aforementioned Metzoraim.  Their Tzaraat parallels the captain’s death, based on the Gemara (Nedarim 64b), which says that “Metzora Chashuv KeMeit,” a Metzora is considered as a dead person.  The captain, who should have spoken words of encouragement to the people, instead used his speech to scorn Hashem’s prophet, and was thus killed.  The four Metzoraim also used their speech improperly, and were given Tzaraat, an affliction compared to death; however, the four Metzoraim were then able to do Teshuvah and use their speech for good.  Thus from our Haftarah we see both the best results of speech, from the four Metzoraim, and worst results of speech, from the captain.  Although this Haftarah may end on a negative note, we can certainly learn a very positive lesson from the contrast of its beginning and end. 

We also see the gravity of Chazal’s assertion that “Metzora Chashuv KeMeit”.  The four Metzoraim, as well as Et and Heiv, should have been killed for speaking Lashon HaRa, as the captain was.  Instead, they were all afflicted with Tzaraat instead, and given a second chance to use their speech properly, which all six utilized.  May we all be Zocheh to always have such a second chance to fix our speech and other aspects of our Avodat Hashem.

Innocent Until Proven Guilty by Avi Hirt

The Virtue of a Positive Outlook by Rabbi Joel Grossman