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Rabbi Dovid Saks
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(Torah Portion Tazria) House, Clothing and Skin

The Torah in this week’s portion speaks about Tzoraas - various skin blemishes that develop on parts of one’s body. A Kohain – priest – is the one who determines if it is indeed Tzoraas. If it is Tzoraas, the person is banished from society. He must live alone outside of the encampment until the Kohain determines that the Tzoraas disappeared.

A simple reading of this week’s Torah portion can leave one a bit confused; for what is blatantly missing is what was committed in order to deserve this type of punishment.

Our Sages explain that Tzoraas visits one’s clothing, house or body, as a result of speaking Lashon Harah – speaking derogatory about his fellow. The punishment of Tzoraas was only meted out when the Jewish people were on a heightened spiritual level, such as when G-d communicated through prophecy.

Not only do our sages teach us so, we can extrapolate from certain nuances in the Torah that Tzoraas comes as a result of forbidden speech.

Usually when a person speaks about another in a degrading manner and exposes his faults, he does it secretly, or on a more contemporary note, when a person blogs negatively about another he generally uses a pseudonym. If one was afflicted with Tzoraas and banished from society, he received his due reprimand publically for privately slandering his fellow.

Additionally, being banished from society for speaking ill of others is an appropriate penalty, for by degrading someone he becomes isolated. The Tzoraas forces the slanderer to live completely separated from society and personally experience what he did to others.

There is more to be derived from the Torah’s discussion about Tzoraas. The Jewish people are the only nation that has laws concerning one’s manner of the speech; specifically concerning speaking negatively of his fellow – Lashon Harah.

At the beginning of the laws of Tzoraas the Torah when saying “If a person” uses the word, “Adam.” The Talmud tells us that whenever the description Adam is used in a verse it refers to a Jewish person. Thus, the laws of Tzoraas are only applicable to a Jew who speaks Lashon Harah.

The Alshich asks why does the word Adam refer to the Jewish people? Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried o.b.m. explains that all other Hebrew descriptions of a person have a plural form of the word, except for the word Adam, it has no plural form.

The Jewish people are classified as a single unit. All our souls emanate from the same Heavenly source and we therefore have a higher standard of maintaining peace and love with each other. The singular term, Adam is a most fitting description of the Jewish nation. This idea, that we are one unit is also apparent when the Torah describes the 70 family members that descended to Egypt with out forefather Yaacov; the Torah refers to them in the singular, Nefesh - soul.

Because we are one soul, if we speak derogatory of a fellow ‘soul’ it is abhorrent to the Almighty. The Tzoraas affliction is the manifestation of the disharmony caused by the Lashon Harah.

The Torah speaks of two great people who were afflicted by Tzoraas. Moshe, when standing at the Burning Bush, accused the Jewish people that they would not listen to him. His hand momentarily got Tzoraas as an indicator that he spoke derogatorily about his people.

Miriam also received Tzoraas when she spoke judgmentally about her brother Moshe.

The Torah tells us that Aaron the Kohain and his descendants determine whether the blemishes are Tzoraas or not. Why is Aaron specifically mentioned regarding this law? A reason offered, is that the Mishna in Ethics of our Fathers tells us to be the students of Aaron – loving peace, pursuing peace, loving humanity and bringing them close to Torah.”

Since Aaron is quintessentially associated with peace making, the Torah is stressing that upon his examining a person’s blemish which indicates he had created a rift in relationships, the positive peaceful energy that Aaron and his descendants exude will help the person choose a more refined and sensitive way of speaking about others.

Let us unite and set into motion a personal initiative to speak Lashon Tov - positive speech concerning our fellow, thereby we will endorse our admired status of being called a singular Adam and Soul!

Wishing you a restful, peaceful and enjoyable Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid and Malki Saks and family
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