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Parashat Tazria

April 1, 2022
29 Adar II 5782
Parashat Tazria
Leviticus 12:1 - 13:59

Dear Friends,

This week’s Torah portion Tazria, is commonly associated with skin eruptions, and it is also associated with speech and the power of hateful speech. This week we mourn the death of 11 victims of terror in Israel, which occurred in the same week as a historic summit meeting between Israeli leaders and their counterparts from Egypt, Morocco, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates. When we are unable to communicate by any other means, human beings resort to violence of the worst kind. The summit is set to become a regular event, rotating among the participating countries. 

Even as we mourn the deaths, let us look to the communication at the summit that occurred this week. Anger is an easy emotion to access, often leading to unthinkable outbursts of behavior that have a terrorizing effect. It is actually much more difficult to sit down with those with whom we do not agree and strive to find common ground. It takes courage not to lash out.

We live in a time when we respond quickly to what is said. Reflecting on the words of others has become an almost forgotten process. Gut responses that inflame are the lingua franca of the moment.  Our current political process is rife with it, our world is rife with it, and we simply have no response to it. It has assaulted us, and we become unable to avoid getting caught in the minutiae, in the flash of the moment.

Is this a form of lashon hara, evil speech?

In this week’s Torah portion, Tazria, we are taught about what to do when someone has a skin disease, one that is often translated as leprosy. The connection that is made by the Rabbis is that this is a physical manifestation of evil speech.

In the words of the Rabbis, “A loose tongue is like an arrow. Once it is shot, there is no holding it back.” The Midrash notes that the word “Torah,” teaching, is used five times to refer to ‘tzara’at.’ From this superfluous repetition, the sages derive that “one who utters evil reports is considered in violation of the entire five books of the Torah.”

What are we to do in the face of speech that is thoughtless, incites violence, and is hateful, cruel, racist, and misogynistic? Clearly, our teachers thought this kind of speech as the worst. We see that reflected on Yom Kippur when we recite the Al Cheyts, most of which relate to our misuse of speech. Our words matter.

Such speech is like the oft told tale of the feathers. Our words are like feathers; once unleashed, they are almost impossible to reclaim and we never know where they will land.

As we welcome the new month of Nisan this week, may we choose our words with care, thinking through the effect they have upon others.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Sun, December 4 2022 10 Kislev 5783