Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Awesome Power of Speech

by Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher, Dean of Students, Diaspora Yeshiva

Parshat Tazria tells us about the laws of TZARAAT. TZARAAT was a miraculous illness that was inflicted upon a person who spoke Lashon Hara about a fellow Jew. Anyone diagnosed with Tzara'at was sent outside the camp or city to live a solitary existence. Tzara'at is comparable to leprosy, although in certain ways it was very different.

When a person speaks derogatorily about a fellow Jew, even if it's true this is called LASHON HARA. He may accuse him of taking away his business or of not respecting him, and in doing so may cause relationships to be severed. Lashon Hara can destroy marriages and other relationships, such as partnerships or friendships.

Essentially, slander causes people to become lonely, as people who hear the Lashon Hara and accept it, will no longer interact with the people slandered in the same way that they did previously. The Torah states that the punishment and atonement for speaking Lashon Hara is to become infected with TZARAAT and thereby become socially isolated. The slanderer is sent out of the camp and is pronounced to be "spiritually unclean", so that people will keep away from him.

The purpose of the Torah's punishment is not merely to afflict the sinner, but to awaken him to realize his sin. When the slanderer is forced to be alone, he will have a chance to contemplate all the loneliness and pain that he caused others through his character assassination. 

The Talmud in Nedarim 64 teaches us that in certain ways a METZORA (Leper) is like a dead person, in that he is limited in his ability to help others because of his isolation. Thus, when the METZORA experiences that feeling of being "dead" - disconnected from society, it causes him to do Teshuvah and stop his harmful speech, which caused people to be disconnected from each other.

The Torah teaches us to use our power of speech positively. Therefore, MISHLEI warns us that life and death depends on our speech. Let us use words that are encouraging, that show love, caring, understanding and appreciation. We will thus strengthen our relationships, increasing peace and unity among Jews

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