This week’s sedra, Metzorah, is full of technical laws of purity and impurity, mostly centred around the Biblical disease of Tzaraat, which is most commonly mistranslated as leprosy.
It was clear to the Sages of the Talmud that this was no normal disease, as evidenced by the fact that the diagnosis was made by a Kohen and not a doctor.
Rather this disease is seen as a physical manifestation of a spiritual ailment that requires the afflicted individual to urgently seek help.
The Talmud teaches us that Tzaraat comes for a number of reasons, most notably the sin of lashon hara, speaking ill of others.
The remarkable thing about Lashon Hara is that it is forbidden to speak negatively about someone, even if the comment is 100% true! Slander (motzi shem ra) is a different sin altogether.
Even if something is true, it is still lowly for us to choose to focus on another person’s shortcomings. (There are of course times when this may be necessary and various conditions must be met, but that’s beyond the scope of this short idea)
In fact the very word ‘Tzaraat’ is related to the term ‘tzar ayin’, one who looks badly at others. One who sees themselves in competition with others will always need others to lose for them to win. They will speak evil of others in order to make themselves look and feel good.
However ‘life and death are in the hands of the tongue’, meaning words are incredibly powerful. The Hebrew word for ‘word’ is davar, which can also mean ‘thing’. A word is a thing!
As a result of this, one who speaks ill of others is made to look bad themselves and excluded from society until they have learned their lesson.
Although we don’t apply the technical laws of Tzaraat nowadays, the message behind it is as relevant now as it ever was. In the era of social media, we are reminded to be extra careful with what we say and post!
Rabbi Roodyn is education director of Jewish Futures Trust