Torah for This Hour | April 18, 2024

Tzara‘at and Tikkun Olam: The Nexus

The weekly Torah portions Tazria‘ and Metzora‘ deal with the appearance of tzara’at, a skin affliction, with its various physiological symptoms, from its diagnosis through the affected person’s isolation to the patient’s full purification and return to normal life. Even back then, in the time of the Rabbis, it was clear that there was a close connection between body and mind. In this case in particular, being a metzora‘, someone afflicted with that condition, was taken to be an indication of being motzi shem ra‘, someone who badmouths others. They stated forthrightly, “Evil speech (leshon hara‘) looms larger than idolatry, illicit sexual relations, and bloodshed.” Or as the Hafetz Hayyim said in his book on speech ethics, “the study of Torah is found to be the greatest of all mitzvot, and, correspondingly, evil speech is the most grievous of all sins….”

As we are about to rid our surrounding of ḥametz, let us remember to get the “ḥametz” out of our speech and our minds. Far be it from us to spread gossip and to needlessly besmirch others. It is many times more important, though not to refrain from speaking and crying out against evil and injustice. Both kinds of action are rooted in the power of speech.

May the words on our lips never fail to live up to our ideals. Amen.