Parshat Tazria-Metzora: Leviticus 12:1-15:33; II Kings 7:3-20.
The major theme of Tazria-Metzora, is the skin disease referred to as tsaraat.
While often translated as “leprosy,” the disease described is not leprosy as we know it; and likely the cause of this can be traced to mistranslation of the Hebrew into Greek.
The Sages of the Mishnah were confused by the lengthy detail Torah gives to this affliction, and the answer they gave (as taught by the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks,) was that it was punishment for lashon hara (evil speech). They reached this both through some play of words as well as the fact that both Miriam and Moses are afflicted by tsaraat after speaking negatively about others prior to being afflicted.
While we must always continue to avoid participating in lashon hara, I would like to share the idea of “spiritual leprosy” that Rabbi Nathan Landman teaches. Landman shares that “[t]he disease of spiritual leprosy would include attempts to justify a government lying to its citizens … epidemic abuses of advertising employing words that are denuded of meaning so as to arouse a “feel good” response … [and the] ubiquitous tendency to rationalize one’s behavior rather than having the courage to confront one’s failings.”
All these things are happening around us and to us; and yet we allow it because we do not see it as lashon hara but rather as the expected behavior of government, companies and individuals alike.
If we are to embrace the teachings of Tazria-Metzora, we must see the pain and suffering being caused by doing business as usual, and speak up when we see people participating in spreading the gossip which is the root of the affliction of spiritual leprosy. We must always remember that much of what we enjoy in casual conversation is likely gossip, and we have a responsibility to not participate in sharing it — in any form (looking at your social media).
While it might feel good in the moment to say “did you hear?” or to post a comment, retweet a post or share an article without reading its contents (but the title!), in the long term we are participating in spreading a disease that is destroying individuals and communities alike.
While we no longer see the physical affliction of those who participate in gossip, we see the mental ones every day. Bullying is the child of gossip, and we know the impact it can have on one’s mental health. It has been shown that one adult caring is all it takes to save the life of a young person who is struggling.
We all need to be the best of ourselves as we begin to emerge from our homes and back into the world.
Rabbi Simone Schicker is rabbi at Temple B’nai Israel in Kalamazoo.