Shabbat-Table Talks: Tazria-Messora
By: Rabbi Ralph Tawil <firstname.lastname@example.org>
[This week’s Table Talks is dedicated in memory of Rafael ben Bahiia a”h by his family.
See the end of this message for the full text of the dedication. ]
Being careful with language. The
special gift of human speech is occasionally misused. We should be careful not
to say anything that might be damaging about people. This applies even if the
statement is true. [If the statement is false, the sin is even worse, now
including the sin of lying.] Gossiping
and spreading rumors, on the surface seem like very popular activities, however,
over time the gossip loses friends and has trouble gaining people’s
confidence. Let us focus this week on the value of not speaking in damaging ways
main topic that is discussed in this week’s double perasha reading is the
malady of “ssara’at” (malignant discoloration of skin or other items). One
form of ssara’at was known as “house ssara’at.” This phenomenon was
characterized by a reddish or greenish discoloration of the house’s walls. If
the discoloration were spreading, the house would ultimately be destroyed. The
Kohanim were the only ones who could pronounce the house as being afflicted with
ssara’at. The Torah reflects the owner’s careful language when approaching
the Kohen to inform him of the situation in his house.
spoke to Moshe and to Aharon saying: When you enter the land of Canaan, that I
am giving you as a holding, and I place an affliction of ssara’at on a house
in the land of your holding, there shall come the one whose house it is and
report to the priest, saying:
like an affliction has been seen by me on the house!
(would suffice.) What is scripture teaching by saying “like an affliction?”
That even if he was learned and he knew that it was a ssara’at affliction, he
should not decree and say “an affliction” rather “like an affliction.”
The Kohen would pronounce the house’s ssara’at status, because the Kohanim
were the repository of information that was needed to determine the status of
the phenomenon. Therefore, the owner, even if he is very knowledgeable, can only
say “something like an affliction… and not declare it affliction. ” The
owner did not want to overstep the Kohen’s authority. He simply was not
authorized to make the determination. In a homiletic vein, the homeowner is
careful not to give “damaging” information about the house, when he is not
certain about its truth.
hakhamim understood the reason ssara’at as being the punishment for speaking
in a damaging way about people. They have the Kohen speak tough words when the
homeowner comes to report his house’s ssara’at.
kohen should speak words of reproof saying: “My son, ssara’at comes because
of damaging language (lashon hara’) [the midrash brings a proof from
Deuteronomy 24:8-9 which mentions Miriam’s ssara’at that she received after
speaking disparagingly about Moshe.]
are also those who understand the Hebrew word “Messora” as hinting towards
the words “Mossi shem Ra” (slanderer).
person who has ssara’at is removed from the city and must walk around with
torn garments and wild hair crying out “impure, impure.” In short, he is
kept away from people and is removed from the normal society.
Why is it important not to speak in a damaging way about people? (Speaking in a
damaging way can hurt people from afar. It changes other’s perception of him
in such a way that it is very hard to change it back.)
do you feel when someone speaks badly about you?
should you do when you hear someone speaking in a damaging way about another?
(One should remember that you are not allowed to hear this kind of talk. You
should try to change the subject. If you cannot do that, you must not accept the
gossiper’s words as authenticated truth. What is the other side of the story?
--In certain situations, you might try to defend the person.)
do people speak in a damaging way about others? (They think it boosts their own
image and ego. They know that some people enjoy hearing bad things about people.
They want to be popular with that group.)
we stated above the consequence of having ssara’at is isolation. Although
ssara’at does not exist today, one might still suffer the isolation that comes
from spreading rumors and damaging words about people. Isolation can lead to the
gossiper being isolated, instead of being more popular. Since everyone knows
that the gossiper is going to spread any information around, people would stop
taking them into their confidence and sharing intimate secrets with them for
fear that their confidences will be broken. Sharing confidence builds close
relationships. Having no close relations can lead to isolation.
society contains many instances where people spread damaging information about
others. There are even sections of newspapers known as “gossip columns.”
Yisrael, who follow the enlightened teachings of the Torah and the insights of
its wise sages, keep far away from those who speak damagingly about people.
Instead, Bne Yisrael concerns itself with words of truth, wisdom and Torah.
there situations when a person must speak damagingly about a person? (Yes. When
the knowledge is first hand and the person receiving the information needs it to
protect himself from being harmed. For example, if you have first hand
information that a certain person cheated you, and you here that one of your
friends is entering into a partnership with him you are allowed to warn him. The
warning must describe the event as you know it and not an exaggeration of the
we speak about people, even if it is to praise a person, we must be careful that
it would not damage him. (How can praising a person sometimes be damaging? —it
could lead some jealous people to mention his faults in order to “cut him down
This week’s Table Talks is dedicated in memory of Rafael ben Bahiia. Here is a brief note
was a kind, reverent and loving person who looked forward to every Shabbat as if
it was the grandest of days. He was always striving for his family to be
together on Shabbat, Holidays as well as all family days and happy occasions.
Being a Kohen he showed us the importance of leadership and how we must continue
to carry out the customs and traditions of our community and it’s religion. He
was very active in various charitable organizations and stressed the continued
support we must put into helping the less fortunate. Whether it was Tzedakah or
visiting and helping the sick, he always showed our family why we need to be
grateful for what we have in life as well as making sure we are aware that we
must always be available to help our fellow man.
will be greatly missed, by his loving wife, caring children and adorable
grandchildren who he loved as much as life itself.
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