July 22, 2024
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Parshat Tazria-Metzora: Striving for Positive Speech

How many minutes a day do you speak on the phone or talk to someone in person? We spend so many of our waking hours involved in communicating with other people, whether in person, on the phone, by email or text. Commenting on the words “Vayehi ha’adam l’nefesh chaya,” Onkelos explains that what Hashem blew into us when we were created became a “ruach memalela,” a spirit of speech within us. Communication is in our very essence!

Isn’t it strange, then, that despite our need for constant communication, we tend to lavish much more attention on mitzvot and activities that happen infrequently than on those that we are involved in constantly? Pesach lasted only eight days, but how much time, effort and anxiety did we put into preparing for it, making sure we got it right? Netilat Lulav is only done on Sukkot for several minutes a day, seven times a year, yet many of us spend hours and small fortunes in our search for the perfect etrog. If we look to maximize our closeness to Hashem, we will realize that our major focus should be on the areas that consume most of our time. Why don’t we naturally do this? This is precisely the plan of our yetzer Hara, which distracts us from the constant and essential mitzvot with the flashy, less-frequent ones.

Both of this week’s parshiot, Tazria and Metzora, deal with tzara’at (usually compared to leprosy). While the Gemara teaches that tzara’at comes as a punishment for speaking lashon hara (derogatory speech), what’s the connection between lashon hara and tzara’at? It’s a measure-for-measure punishment for the metzora. Rashi explains that lashon hara causes distance between people; the speaker is trying to ostracize his victim. Since he separates people through his tongue, Hashem inflicts him with tzara’at, causing him to be ostracized for a period of time.

But when you hear this you have every right to ask: Since there is so much lashon hara in our world today, why is there no tzara’at? The Chofetz Chaim quotes an answer from the Sefer Nachal Kedumim that Hashem, with His infinite kindness, does not afflict us with tzara’at today since we would have no way of purifying ourselves without the Beit Hamikdash, sacrifices and a kohen who would have the authority to purify us. If we would be afflicted with tzara’at we would have its impurity on us until the Beit Hamikdash is rebuilt (speedily in our time)!

We all know how serious lashon harah is; we have heard it so many times and in so many ways, but I just want to share one thought from the Chofetz Chaim. We start our Shemoneh Esrei with the words “Hashem, please open up my lips and allow my mouth to speak Your praise,” but do we ever stop to ask Hashem, “Please open up my mouth to speak harmful words”? Of course not! It is evident from this introductory prayer that if we need to ask Hashem to grant us the ability to even speak Hashem’s praises, how can we possibly consider speaking lashon hara?

While it’s evident that we need to concentrate our efforts in improving the quality of our speech, how do we accomplish this? Performing a major overhaul on every conversation or interaction would be an overwhelming challenge. Perhaps we can just take a break—right now, for a mere 30 seconds!—to assess our daily interactions with others and recognize the types of conversations or individuals we need to avoid.

One of the best ways to ensure a constant focus on perfecting our precious, holy, God-given gift of speech is to learn the Sefer Chofetz Chaim daily. The current English publication is conveniently divided into daily learning subjects. While this sefer will give tremendous benefit to everyone who learns it individually, it’s even better for a married couple to learn it together. The sefer is easily understood and accessible to all, yet deep enough to stimulate any scholar. I read that the great gaon v’tzadik Rav Yisroel Salanter, zt”l, kept a copy in his tallit bag and learned it daily throughout his life from the time it was first printed. I know you will find that after learning this sefer together with your spouse, even for a short period of time, it will enhance your marriage as each partner develops a sensitivity to improper speech.

May Hashem truly open our lips in ways that bring only joy and bracha to Him and to each of us. May He grant us shalom, simcha and ahavat Yisrael (peace, happiness and love of the Jewish people) in our homes and beyond.

By Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim

 Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch. PTI has attracted people from all over northern New Jersey, including Teaneck, Bergenfield, Paramus, Rockaway and Fair Lawn. He initiated and continues to lead a full multi-level gemara learning program in the evenings, gives halacha and hashkafah shiurim on Shabbat and, more recently, has spread out beyond PTI to begin a weekly Beit Medrash program with in-depth chavruta learning in both Livingston and Springfield, New Jersey.

 

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