The Spiritual Sickness by Max Shulman


In this week’s Parashah, we learn about Tzara’at. As we know from Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch’s commentary to the Torah., it is not caused by bacteria or a virus; it is a spiritual affliction. The Gemara (Arachin 16a) states that there are seven sins that can precipitate Tzara’at: Lashon HaRa, murder, false oaths, illicit relations, arrogance, theft, and stinginess.

Let us focus on Lashon HaRa. It also states in the Gemara (15b) that in Israel they would say that Lashon HaRa kills three: the speaker, the listener, and the subject.

In Mishlei (18:21), the Pasuk declares “Mavet VeChayim BeYad Lashon,” “Death and life are in the hand of a tongue.” This puzzling verse raises a question: Does a tongue really have hands? Of course not! However, this Pasuk can be understood as a metaphor that just as a hand can kill, a tongue can also be lethal. Lashon HaRa, therefore, can be fatal.

We have seen a number of sources describing the severe repercussions resulting from Lashon HaRa. However, what is so wrong with Lashon HaRa causing the Torah to so vehemently protest it? The person speaking Lashon HaRa and the listener both view someone else in a new, negative light. Therefore, it sets up a bad pessimistic outlook and feeling for those people. Additionally, the subjects of Lashon HaRa have no opportunity to defend themselves, nor should they have to. The usual conversant of Lashon HaRa is motivated by bad spiritual traits, like anger or jealousy. That’s why the punishment, Tzara’at, is spiritual and ending this affliction requires a Kohein. A person needs to take time to reflect on himself, and what err caused him to experience this ultimate spiritual low.

The affliction of Tzara’at is spoken of where we deal with the Halachot of Tum’ah and Taharah, which are certainly spiritual topics. What is the connection with Tzara’at? The answer may be that the person who speaks or hears Lashon HaRa lowers themselves spiritually, and that is why they need to reflect upon themselves and make a true change in their behavior. May we all learn from the Torah’s severe warning against Lashon HaRa and see others in a good light.

The Destiny of Difference by Rabbi Darren Blackstein

The Power of Speech by Sruli Farkas