Shabbat-Table Talks: Tazria-Messora

To read last year's Table Talk  click here.

 

By: Rabbi Ralph Tawil <tawil@bezeqint.net>

[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. ]

Value: 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 about people.

 

Background: The 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.

 

Text: Vayiqra 14:34-35

Hashem 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:

(Something) like an affliction has been seen by me on the house!

 

Torat Kohanim Messora 5:10

“Affliction” (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.”

 

Analysis: 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.

 

Some 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.

“Saying:…”—The 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.]

 

There are also those who understand the Hebrew word “Messora” as hinting towards the words “Mossi shem Ra” (slanderer).

The 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.

 

Discussion: 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.)

 

How do you feel when someone speaks badly about you?

 

What 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.)

 

Why 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.)

 

As 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.

 

Western society contains many instances where people spread damaging information about others. There are even sections of newspapers known as “gossip columns.”

 

Bne 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.

 

Are 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 event.

 

Whenever 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 to size.”

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This week’s Table Talks is dedicated in memory of Rafael ben Bahiia. Here is a brief note about him:

He 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.

He will be greatly missed, by his loving wife, caring children and adorable grandchildren who he loved as much as life itself.

To read last year's Table Talk click here.

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