In this week’s Parashah the laws of a Metzora, are discussed in great detail. One who becomes a Metzora must not only leave the camp for a week, but must also follow many practices of mourning, such as wearing torn clothing, not shaving one’s head, and covering one’s head (VaYikra 13:45). Rav Hershel Schachter points out that although in most circumstances somebody mourns for the death of a relative, in a case of Tzara’at, the Metozra essentially has to mourn for himself. Because a Metzora has to follow many laws of mourning, he is considered dead. Similarly, the Brisker Rav in his commentary to the Mishneh Torah points out that when somebody is sentenced to death by Beit Din he is considered to be dead even before his official execution.
The idea of a Metzora being considered dead appears a handful of times throughout the Torah. When the Jews are enslaved to Par’oh and Par’oh dies, the Pasuk states, “VaYei’anchu Bnei Yisrael Min HaAvodah,” “Bnei Yisrael cried out from the work” (Shemot 2:23). Why do the Jews start crying after Par’oh dies? Shouldn’t they be happy that their cruel master is dead? Rashi (2:23 s.v. VaYei’anchu) explains that Par’oh did not actually die, but rather became afflicted with Tzara’at. To heal himself, he slaughtered Jewish babies to bathe in their blood. The Jews cried not because Par’oh had died, but rather because he was bathing in their children’s blood. This Midrash shows that somebody with Tzara’at is equated with a dead person.
The Gemara (Arachin 16b) explains that the main cause of Tzara’at is Lashon HaRa. What about Lashon HaRa is so bad that one who speaks it is considered to be dead? The Midrash (BeReishit Rabbah 19:4) explains that the Nachash convinced Chavah to eat from the Eitz HaDa’at by speaking Lashon HaRa to her about Hashem. Thus, according to this Midrash the first sin of mankind was caused by Lashon HaRa. We also see the power of Lashon HaRa, that it was strong enough to lure Chavah into transgressing Hashem’s command and ultimately resulted in her banishment from Gan Eiden. Similarly, the Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 84:7) informs us that the slavery in Egypt was a direct result of Lashon HaRa. The true cause of slavery in Egypt was the hatred between Yosef and his brothers, which ultimately led to the sale of Yosef to Potifar. This brotherly hatred was itself a result of the Lashon HaRa that Yosef spoke to his father about his brothers. These two examples show how Lashon HaRa can have severe and drastic effects.
Although we should be aware of the severity of Lashon HaRa, we should not just remain silent our whole lives to avoid ever speaking it. On the contrary, we should talk, but always for the good. In fact, the Chafetz Chaim, the premier advocate for Shemirat HaLashon, guarding one’s speech, in the early 20th century, was known for being very friendly and talkative. Although he was aware of the severity of Lashon HaRa, he still interacted with other people and his words had a very positive impact on many lives. We should try to emulate the Chafetz Chaim, being aware of the laws of Lashon HaRa and still speaking, but only if we have something positive to say.