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Watch what you say

Photo Courtesy Sharona Halickman

A Metzora is a person who has Tzaraat, a discoloration of the skin, a punishment that teaches the transgressor that they must mend their ways. What is the meaning of the word Metzora? Metzora is a contraction of the words “Motzi Ra”, one who spreads slander.

We learn in the Talmud, Arachin 15b:

Reish Lakish said: What is the meaning of that which is written (Vayikra 14:2) “This shall be the law of the Metzora”, it means: This shall be the law of the Motzi Shem Ra (defamer).

The Gemara continues: A Braita was taught in the academy of Rabbi Yishmael: Whoever speaks Lashon HaRa proliferates iniquities equivalent to the three cardinal sins: Idol worship, illicit relations and murder.

According to Rivash, this statement is not supposed to be taken literally but it does dramatize the seriousness of speaking Lashon HaRa.

Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmani said in the name of Rabbi Yonatan: Tzaraat afflictions come upon a person for any one of seven sinful things: 1. Lashon HaRa, 2. Murder, 3.Vain Oaths, 4. Illicit Relations, 5. Haughtiness, 6. Theft, 7. Stinginess.

We see from here that slander is a serious transgression that unfortunately is not taken as seriously as many of the other mitzvot. Today we don’t have tzaraat to remind us that we have transgressed. We have to be conscious on our own of what we are saying to and about others.

We learn in Mishlei 18:21: “Death and life are in the hand of the tongue.” Rabbi Chama b’Rabbi Chanina taught that just as a hand can kill, so too a tongue can kill.

This is an important concept to keep in mind each time that we open our mouths to speak. It just may save a life.

About the Author
Sharona holds a BA in Judaic Studies from Stern College and an MS in Jewish Education from Azrieli Graduate School, Yeshiva University. Sharona was the first Congregational Intern and Madricha Ruchanit at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, NY. After making aliya in 2004, Sharona founded Torat Reva Yerushalayim, a non profit organization based in Jerusalem which provides Torah study groups for students of all ages and backgrounds.
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