This week, we read Parasha Tazria. Much of it deals with tzaraas. Tzaraas was a disease which is usually described as leprosy, because of the way it made human flesh appear to be white and scaled. However, not only people, but also clothing and even houses in the Land of Israel could be afflicted with tzaraas.
The Talmud (Aruchin 15b) explains that tzaraas was a punishment for evil speech (lashan hora). Some famous people in the Torah suffered from tzaraas, including the prophetess Miriam, for having unfairly criticized her brother, Moses.
The punishment for tzaraas included being set outside the camp, because the malady was considered an impurity. Thus, the person who took it upon himself to speak ill of others becomes unsightly and unwelcome. He must be separated from the community. He must stay outside the camp for a week, and then give a sacrifice as part of being cleansed.
It is very easy to say something that is not true, or puts someone in a bad light even if it is true. It is impossible to take back your words once they have been spoken. There’s an old cowboy saying I like: “Never pass up a good chance to keep quiet.”
When explaining the Scout Slogan to “do a good turn daily,” Lord Baden-Powell used to say that a good turn could be simple, even if it was just sticking up for a friend when others were saying bad things about him. You also can do a good turn by not saying hurtful things about people, even if they are true. Remember the advice, “If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all.”