Torah Fax
Friday, April 20, 2007 - 2 Iyar, 5767

Torah Reading: Tazriah-Metzorah (Leviticus 12:1 - 15:33)
Candle Lighting: 7:22 PM
Shabbat ends: 8:25 PM
Pirkei Avot Chapter 2

So To Speak?

One of the strangest phenomena the Torah records is the one discussed in this week's parsha concerning a house that was afflicted with tza'ra'at (incorrectly translated as leprosy), a form of lesion that affected people's bodies, clothing and even their homes.
 
Upon discovering this "disease" on one's house, the owner of the home would call a Kohaim to determine whether it was truly afflicted with tza'ra'at. The Torah states that the owner should inform the priest that "There appears to me to be something like a lesion in the house."
 
Rashi notes the indirect way the homeowner presented his discovery to the Kohain. Instead of saying "There is a lesion," he states "There appears to me something like a lesion in the house." This is to teach us, that even if the person was well versed in the laws of lesions, nevertheless he should never state categorically that he saw a lesion. He must wait for the priest to come, examine it, and declare it to be lesion.
 
But what is wrong for the homeowner to state clearly that he saw a lesion if that is indeed what he saw. Why the added qualifier "like"?
 
One answer is that the entire phenomenon of tzara'at, our Sages tell us, was a reaction to lashon hara. Lashan hara is usually translated as slander or gossip, or simply speaking ill of others. However, a broader way of rendering this phrase is: bad use of language. Obviously, the worst violation of poor or bad use of language is when we use it to hurt others, but it is not restricted to that extreme form of abuse. To counter lashon hara one must not only avoid speaking ill of others but they must also speak in the most refined and elegant way possible.
 
To explain: The most pronounced quality that defines our humanity is our ability to speak. Indeed, when dividing all levels of existence into the four categories of the inanimate, vegetation, animals and humans, the term used to describe humans is "midaber-a talker." The power of speech is what differentiates us from animals.
 
Speech is the bridge between the two worlds of self and other. When a person speaks, others can be part of the thought process, unlike thought. But, speech is also unlike action where the person's intimate involvement is not detected by the outside. When a person speaks, their feelings are clearly expressed. The verse "his soul leaves him as he speaks," expresses how profound speech is. Speech is thus truly a Divine power that enables us to express our inner feelings to others.
 
This ability to relate to others one's most intimate feelings is a gift that G‑d gave to humans. Therefore, when one takes this exquisite gift and uses it poorly, it is a serious breach of trust. It is comparable to one who takes a piece of jewelry given as a gift and uses it to remove filth.
 
In addition to the fact that speech is a rare Divine gift, speech also has the capacity to unlock hidden aspects of our personalities. Kabbalah teaches us that positive speech can make the latent positive energies surface, while negative speech can do the same with regard to hidden or suppressed negative energies.   
 
We can now understand why the Torah does not want the owner of the house to state categorically that he saw a lesion in his house; yet the Kohain must make that very declaration.
 
According to Jewish law, only the Kohain can declare the house unclean and subject it to purification. Thus, the Kohain must state clearly that there is a lesion and the house is unclean. He cannot use euphemisms or vague statements. Clarity about matters of law and behavior override the importance of refined and positive language.
 
But the owner of the house, whose declaration has no effect anyhow, must be more sensitive than others to not state categorically that there is a lesion. And this so for several reasons:
 
First, tz'ra'at was a reaction to the malevolent use of speech. Surely, when one goes through the process of cleansing oneself from improper speech, one must be more conscientious than the average person in selecting a less negative way of articulating one's thoughts.
 
Second, since negative language can actually activate dormant negative energy, this individual would only be strengthening his weaknesses. Only the Kohain who is identified with the trait of kindness, must be blunt in his declaration so that he can "surgically" remove the negative influences from the person who was afflicted with tza'ra'at.
 
Third, just as there is a prohibition against speaking ill of others, one should not disparage oneself needlessly.  Some people have a tendency to be very harsh on themselves, thinking that it is good to be self-deprecating and humble. In the pursuit of the noble trait of humility, some will actually grossly exaggerate their own deficiencies and cause themselves harm in the process.
 
On the other hand, it is crucial that we do not overlook our faults. If we see a "lesion" developing we must do something about it.
 
By using the term "like" a lesion, the owner of the house satisfies both demands. He is conscious of his potential spiritual malady (of which the lesion was a physical manifestation) and is taking action to deal with it, while at the same time not jumping to conclusions and exaggerating the extent of the malady.
 
We are living in the most sensitive time of history. As we have stated repeatedly in so many of our weekly messages that we are standing on the threshold of the future Redemption. In this precarious position-it's not easy to stand on a threshold for too long-our "house," figuratively speaking, seems to us to be afflicted with serious lesions.
 
The Torah therefore exhorts us not to be too harsh in our own self-condemnation. But, we should not put ourselves down and we ought never become hysterical in our own self-judgment.
 
In addition, our Sages tell us that the way to correct the negative forms of speech is to engage in positive forms of speech; to be generous with your praise of others. Additionally,, we should spend more time utilizing our Divine gift of speech for Torah study and prayer.
 
All the positive energy that we will generate through our positive speech (as well as thought and action) will finally help to push us off the "threshold" of Redemption into the Redemption itself.  


Moshiach Matters

Since we are now at the conclusion of the era of exile, anticipating "the footsteps of Mashiach," then most certainly "the day is short," while "the work is much," for there is already an abundance of Torah and mitzvos to be dealt with. From a talk of the Rebbe on Shabbos Parshas Masei, 5741 [1981]
Moshiach - It’s a Jewish issue. For more info, visit www.moshiach.com
 

© 2001- 2007 Chabad of the West Side