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Words of Wisdom

04/03/2019 12:21:43 PM


Sam Shnider

This week we have a special trifold occasion of Rosh Hodesh, the new
moon, the new year in biblical counting (which begins in the spring
month of Nissan), and the imminent approach of Passover, which we all
prepare for in our own ways.

We read from three different Torah scrolls this week: the first, for
the weekly portion of Parashat Tazria, Leviticus 12:1 - 13:59, the
second in Numbers 28, 9-14, for the new moon, and the third, for the
new biblical year and the first month, and the imminent holiday of
passover, Exodus 12:1-20.

While there are many things to comment upon in relation to Passover,
in particular the continuous evolution and exodus of the Jews as
individuals and as a nation, it is important as well to reflect upon
the portion of Tazria, the portion of the week, the fourth section of
Leviticus. This portion speaks about tzara'at, roughly translated as
leprosy, which seems to refer to a form of spiritual disease that
appears as mold on the skin.

Based on a number of instances where people are afflicted by tzara'at,
the rabbis connect this disease with "the evil tongue," or speech
which is malicious in any way, and all forms of gossip and
tale-bearing. The most famous of these is Miriam, the sister of Moses,
a saintly woman, who nonetheless is punished with tzara'at when she
speaks of Moses behind his back (possibly about taking a second Nubian
wife) see Numbers 12:1-15. She is immediately stricken with a
"defiling skin disease" and becomes "leprous as snow" like "a
stillborn child." Miriam is quarantined outside the camp, and the
people cannot move on for seven days until she is healed.

Now it is unclear if we can connect any known disease to the leprosy
that is described in the bible. But what is clear is that the Torah
considers human beings to be complete entities of body and spirit, and
any wrongful act of spirit has an immediate impact on the spirit.
Because human beings can create worlds with their speech and thought,
and be co-creators with the Divine, they must also realize immediately
the consequences of small mindedness and viciousness of any kind.

The will to hurt another person by carrying tales, or gossip, or
slanderous or malicious speech of any kind is such a grave mistake in
the nature of what it is to be human, that it actually causes the body
to rot. With the more saintly people, like Miriam, a small mistake
shows up immediately, and causes the entire nation to stall in their
progress; with lesser human beings, the reactiveness of the body to
evil speech can take years to develop.

Rabbi Israel Kagan, a polish Rabbi of the 19th century, devoted his
life to the study of the importance of guarding one's tongue. His
book, the "Chofetz Hayyim" (One Who Desires Life) is perhaps the most
famous Hebrew book on the topic. He noted how difficult it is to truly
speak positively and in proper ways about the people around us at all
times, but how important it is to endeavor to do so - almost as the
foundation of all ethics.

In preparation for Passover, and in honor of what may be considered
the new year of spring, I encourage each and everyone of us to
consider our habits in relation to speech, and to endeavor to correct
at least one pattern or habit of behavior. In this way we may help
each other, and the people of Israel will not have to stall, as they
did in the case of Miriam, but can continue to move forward towards
the festival of Passover!


Fri, August 14 2020 24 Av 5780