This week is one of the rare Shabbat occurrences where we read from three different Torah Scrolls during the Shabbat morning service. (or roll the Torah to three different Sections when only one scroll is available)
In the first Torah we read the weekly Torah portion of Tazria, This portion is often read as a double portion with Parshat Metzora, but this year being a leap year on the Jewish Calendar, Tazria and Metzorah are separated. Tazria is the 4th weekly portion in the Book of Leviticus. Following the weekly portion we take out a second Torah to read the Rosh Chodesh Torah reading from the book of Numbers, since this Shabbat is the first day of the Hebrew month of Nissan. The third Torah is then taken out for the final “Maftir” Aliyah, In the third Torah we read “Parshat Hachodesh” from the book of Exodus. This reading completes the 4 special readings known as the “Arba Parshiot” inserted as we approach the Passover season.
Tazria, our regular weekly portion, deals with laws of “Tzara’at” which results in spiritual impurity when it afflicts a person.
“Tzara’at” is an ailment with physical symptoms similar to leprosy. During the time of the Bet HaMikdash (Holy Temple) the Kohen (priest) would have to investigate the condition of the person afflicted with Tzara’at and declare the person spiritually “clean” or “unclean.” The laws of “Tzara’at” applied only during the times of the Holy Temple.
Our Rabbis explain that “Tzara’at” was inflicted upon a person as a punishment for speaking “Lashon Hara” (evil speech) – slandering others. From Tazria we learn what should be obvious, that speaking ill about others is an extremely grave sin.
According to our sages, each time we use slander, it affects and hurts three people; 1) the one who speaks the Lashon Hara; 2) the person who listens to what is being said, and; 3) the person who the Lashon Hara is being spoken about! Since we do not have the Holy Temple the laws of Tzara’at and it’s affliction on a person do not apply today, yet the prohibition to speak evil about people is nevertheless the same and even may be more significant.
Our Rabbis have often emphasized the need for a person to be very careful when speaking about others. In fact, we are advised in some cases to refrain from speaking about others even when our intention is to tell nice things, for in the course of the conversation a person may come to say something negative unintentionally.
The importance of refraining from speaking about others can also be seen from a direct mitzvah – commandment of the Torah, “Remember what the L-rd your G-d did unto Miriam on the way, as you came out of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 24:9).
This is one of six remembrances, we learn, a Jew must recall each day. The Torah here refers to a discussion that Miriam had with her brother Aaron. Both of them, of course, were siblings to Moses. In the course of the discussion, Miriam spoke negatively about her brother Moses and his relationships with his wife. As a result, she became leprous with the physical/spiritual disease of Tzara’at. The Torah commands us to continuously remember this episode as a reminder that we too should refrain from speaking negatively about others.
Our sages compare the damage inflicted through Lashon Hara to a person shooting an arrow at someone. As soon as the arrow leaves, the person who shot it has no control over it anymore. Similarly, as soon as a person utters negative words about others, he or she has lost control over the words spoken and there is no telling how far they may travel and how much damage they may inflict. Once they have been exclaimed, there is no taking them back.
I am reminded of the story of Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber when he was a small child. The tailor once brought him a new garment his family wanted to get him, for a fitting. As he was being fitted, the child put his hand in the tailors pocket and pulled out a piece of material. The tailor became very embarrassed as it was obvious that he intended to take some of the extra material purchased by Shalom Dov Ber’s family for himself. .
The little boy knew that he did something wrong by embarrassing the tailor. He then came to his father, Rabbi Shmuel the Rebbe, and asked him what to do to repent for the Avera (sin) of embarrassing another person.
Rabbi Shmuel asked his young son, “Who was the person you embarrassed?” To this the boy replied, “Is it not enough that I embarrassed him, I should also mention his name and commit the sin of Lashon Hara – speaking evil of others?” The father understood the wisdom of the young boy, and so should we!