July 18, 2024
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B-Positive to C-Positive

The metzora is the infamous character found to have tzara’at, primarily occurring due to transgressing the sin of speaking bad about others. What kind of person is this metzora? And more importantly, what led him to fall into this terrible sin of slander?

In describing the process after the Kohen declares the metzora tamei, the pasuk states that the metzora calls out the words “impure, impure, v’tamei tamei yikra.” The Shelah Hakadosh (Shnei Luchot Habrit, Tazria-Metzora) has an understanding of this phrase that I think hits the core of what the metzora’s underlying character flaw is. Says the Shelah Hakadosh, the one who is unclean himself (i.e., the metzora) will declare another person to be tamei. “V’tamei,” the one who is impure, “tamei yikra,” will call another person impure. Typically when we see someone speaking negatively about others, from the outside it seems like the speaker is above and beyond the negativities he is mentioning in his slander. But what’s going on internally? The Shelah teaches us that this exact person calling someone “impure” is actually “impure” himself.

According to this understanding of the Shelah, I think we get a glimpse into the background of the metzora’s personality and what is driving him toward his slander, his cynical behavior. The fact that he himself contains a certain personal negativity or negatives about himself leads him to see and speak negatively about another person. (Interestingly, the gematria (numerical value) of metzora (406) is similar to the gematria of “ayin hara” (405). I think it’s cool to be one off on gematrias!) The root cause that may have led to his eventual sin of slander is his own negative reality or perceived negative reality of himself.

Much (or perhaps all) of how we view our reality is based on our feelings and thoughts. For example, take a bad mood day or when going through a low mood swing. A person in a bad or low mood will see things in a negative light. His vision is clouded by his low mood. His feelings toward something can change based on his mood, and this might eventually lead him to believing that that thing is indeed not good.

To take it one step further: take someone who actually thinks negatively of himself. It’s only normal that someone who entertains this notion becomes self-conscious and uncomfortable about it. Even someone with a strong ego and self-confidence will to some degree feel bad about himself. At a certain point, when it builds up and gets very emotionally provoking, a common reflex to feel uplifted from these frustrating feelings is to put others down, to speak bad about others. We don’t always know what’s going on inside another person, but when we see a person unjustifiably speaking negatively about another person, this is almost a sure sign that he is transferring his own negativities onto another person. It’s all a reflection of his thoughts and feelings about himself. He thinks and believes he’s “impure,” and his negative feelings in this regard may lead him to declare others “impure.” A person who speaks lashon hara might think he is only speaking bad about someone else, while he may fail to realize that he might also be speaking bad about himself since through his speech he reveals to others what’s going on inside of him. When tempted to speak lashon hara, catch yourself to explore whether this drive is stemming from something you’re uncomfortable about in your own self.

Being positive, and feeling positive about yourself, is not just good and helpful for yourself and for your life in general; it’s more than that. It’s what creates your real inner experience of life, your own life, and how you relate to others. A person who feels positive sees positivity; a person who develops a positive self-image sees the positive image of others, and it works vice versa. A person who is able to break out of his feelings of “impure” and enter into a state of feeling pure is highly praiseworthy, and this is an endeavor that needs constant work. The Gemara in Arachin (15b) strongly implies that even a talmid chacham can fall into the trap of being a “mesaper lashon hara” (a speaker of lashon hara). And so we see perhaps that even great and highly accomplished people need to work on overcoming possible negativities they entertain about themselves. Don’t think it’s a selfish endeavour to work on being happy, positive and self-confident in a healthy way; I think it’s actually one of the most selfless agendas to have, because by being in such states you see the good in life, the good in yourself, and the good in others, which ultimately empowers them to see it in themselves and in their own lives.

By Binyamin Benji


Binyamin Benji learns in Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan. He holds an MSW and is the author of the weekly Torah Talk in the Sephardic Congregation of Paramus’ newsletter. He can be reached at [email protected].

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