Parshat Tazria: Leviticus 12:1-13:59; Numbers 28:9-15; Ezekiel 12:1-20 (Shabbat HaChodesh).
By Rabbi Shragie Myers
Harry Potter. The Wheel of Time. The Lord of the Rings. These are three widely read fantasy novels, with magic seeping through every page. All are personal favorites of mine as well.
Years ago, when I read works of fantasy, I was struck by the accepted fact that in the realm of magic, words themselves had power.
Could this be true? Do words have power? We know in Genesis God created the world by speaking: “Let there be light.” Would that indicate words have the capacity to create? Does the Harry Potter killing curse “Avada Kedavra” come from “Abra Cadabra” and originally from Avda Ke’adabra Kezu, Hebrew for “It shall be done, just like I say”?
In this week’s portion, we meet the Metzorah, the spiritual leper. Cast out from the community, marked by spiritual leprosy, the Metzorah spends a week in solitary introspection, reflecting on his decision to use his mouth for evil speech (Lashon Hara) about his fellow man.
This “time out” period for the Metzorah is designed to bring home the message that words do indeed have power. The only way a person marked by this leprosy can become officially ostracized is for the Kohen to speak out loud the words “You are impure.” When the Metzorah has repented and been forgiven, it is only by the Kohen’s verbal statement of “You are now pure” that he is released from this status. Furthermore, it is incumbent upon the Metzorah to have others pray for him, using their words as the vehicle through which he is healed — yet another reminder to the Metzorah of the power of words.
A story is told of a man who visited the Great Sage Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan (1839-1933), also known as the Chofetz Chaim (desirer of life).
“I have spoken much Lashon Harah in my lifetime,” the man said. “How can I repent for this?”
The Chofetz Chaim instructed him to take a down pillow to the marketplace, cut it open and leave it there. When the man returned and reported that he had done so, the great sage instructed him to return and gather up all the feathers.
“What!” exclaimed the man. “How can I possibly find every feather? They are scattered across the entire town!”
“Exactly” said the Chofetz Chaim. “Now do you realize how damaging each word of evil speech can be? How can you possibly undo the damage?”
With the point driven home, the man understood the true extent of the damage done with his words and was ready to begin his repentance.
On the other hand, the potential of words to heal and create positivity is also unlimited.
The Talmud (Berachot 55b) tells us that if a person were to have a sad dream, he should recount it to three friends, who should then say, “Good it was and good it will be,” because the very act of saying it was a positive dream makes it so.
Think of the incredible possibilities to create peace and positivity in the world. Wishing someone a “good day” is much more than a pleasantry; it changes the day for the better. A “good morning” makes it so, and an exclamation of l’chaim! (to life) can extend life itself.
Let us all join to ensure that every word is a positive word, building a more positive and peaceful world together.
Rabbi Shragie Myers is an adult community educator and the executive director of Yeshiva Beth Yehudah.