Our parsha this week, Metzora, goes into great detail discussing the affliction of tzaraas. Tzaraas is generally called leprosy, which is a disease that makes the skin unattractive and damages the nerves. Tzaraas was actually something different, and today it is usually called “Biblical leprosy.”
Tzaraas could affect a person, but it could also affect the plaster and stones of a house by turning it red or green. Tzaraas would appear as white patches on a person. Much of the parsha describes how a kohen would inspect the possibly afflicted person or house to determine if it had tzaraas, and how to cleanse it.
The most valuable lesson for us to learn from the parsha is that tzaraas was a punishment for slander and disparaging remarks. Our Sages described this as lashan ha’ra (evil speech) and went to great lengths to describe the many kinds of speech that was wrong. Generally, lashon hora is any statement, though true, that puts another person in a bad light.
Lashon ha’ra potentially violates every point of the Scout Law:
Trustworthy – You betray a trust when you say something harmful. If you couldn’t keep this information to yourself, how can you be trusted with other things?
Loyal – Spreading tales about friends, family or others is not being loyal to them.
Helpful – Loose talk does not help anyone, and often hurts.
Friendly – One doesn’t talk badly about their friends.
Courteous – It’s rude to say things about people that puts them in a bad light.
Kind – Lashon ha’ra hurts a person’s feelings.
Obedient – Eveyone’s parents and teachers have told them “If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all.”
Cheerful – Speaking badly about someone does not brighten their day.
Thrifty – Saying whatever comes to mind about another person squanders the time and reputations of everyone involved in the discussion.
Brave – If you disagree with something another person has done, you should ask him or her about it directly.
Clean – Disparaging someone leaves a stain on their feelings and your own good name. We no longer have tzaraas on our bodies, but it still appears on our neshamas (souls).
Reverent – Right here in Metzora, and elsewhere in the Torah, God tells us not to be part of lashon ha’ra.
Just because something is true doesn’t mean we have to talk about it. An old cowboy used to advise: “Never pass up a good chance to keep your mouth shut.”
Nelson (with thanks to Jordan for many suggestions)
©2014 Nelson R. Block