Parashat Tazria is one of the most complicated and enigmatic parshiyot of the year. The reason is that the topics discussed are ones that are completely foreign to us. Sacrifices for the safe arrival of a child and the laws of Tzraat and Negaim, a condition translated as leprosy that was found on the person, clothes and walls of the home of a person.
1. The mitzvah of Brit Milah on the 8th day
2. The sacrifices brought by a mother after the birth of her children
3. The laws of Tzaraat
4. The different types pf Tzaraat
5. What to do if you have Tzaraat
What is Tzaraat?
This condition was attended to by a Kohen, who was tasked with identifying the marks, to determine whether this condition was Tzaraat or not. The concepts of quarantine are unfortunately familiar to us all and we can understand the idea of sitting outside of the community until the condition has subsided and the person would once more be permitted to enter the camp. The rabbis in their wisdom wished to derive ethical lessons from this Parasha. They connect the condition to the sin of Lashon Harah, gossip or malicious speech. And that the condition was a measure for measure punishment for the sin.
The Sin of Lashon Harah
The sin of Lashon Harah leads to the breaking of 31 mitzvot and it is no surprise that the Torah states that for such a sin the punishment from Heaven will be found in this world. The Sages state that when the person would speak Lashon Harah, first it would appear on the walls of their homes. If they did not repent then it would appear on their clothes, and only if the person still failed to heed the message did the condition in the form of spots appear on their skin, which would then lead to them being shut out of the community.
This condition, as mentioned above, no longer exists. The Rabbis state that since the time of the Temple our spiritual level has fallen so much and Lashon Harah is so prevalent that the punishment was ineffective to move them to repent. When we look at the effects of Lashon Harah we don’t see anything, for it is just mere words we are saying. But if we could see the devasting effects our words have, we may have a different approach. Imagine if every time we spoke there suddenly appeared green and red spots on our walls. We would be shocked and freaked out. We would see the effects of our bad words. But if we were stubborn and dismissed the spots for mould, and failed to heed the warning, when they appear on our clothes, we again may take note. However as is human nature, we would justify our behaviour and dismiss the signs. It was only when the lesions appeared on the skin and we were declared Tammei!- impure! That we would realise that something was wrong.
The Lesson of Tzaraat
What does Lashon Harah do? It highlights the dots and marks, or mistakes or wrongdoings of another person. Not for their benefit but for us to feel good about ourselves. When we speak Lashon Harah, it is as if we are placing a black dot on the face of a person and pointing it out to all who will listen. This black dot becomes the focus of everyone, and we all forget anything else that a person may have done. Lashon Harah can destroy a person’s reputation, standing and life. It is no surprise that the person who now has the Tzaarat, is removed from his family, his home and his community. As his words have done to the victim, his words now return to afflict him. And it is when he is outside that he sees and experiences the devastating effects of his words. We no longer have Tzaraat, however by reading the Parasha and seeing what the effects on the speaker are, if they can motivate us to guard our tongues from speaking evil of another, then we have succeeded.