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Parshas Tazria-Metzora (5772)

Talk is "CHEEP"

Many people – especially from the older generation – are lamenting the fact that these days nobody seems to talk to anybody else anymore, and that all we do is ‘text’ each other all day long on our little smartphones.

There is even an entire texting dictionary online that one can use to send the shortest message possible and to avoid having to type extra words, G-d forbid. Here are some well-known examples: FWIW = For What It’s Worth; IMHO = In My Humble Opinion; LOL = Laugh Out Loud; FYI = For Your Information; TTYL = Talk To You Later.

[Ironically, even some seniors have recently started to get into the act with their own unique text messages. For example: FWIW = Forgot Where I Was; IMHO = Is My Hearing-Aid On?; LOL = Living on Lipitor; FYI = Found Your Insulin; TTYL = Talk To You Louder.]

Personally, I don’t think this is all bad. In fact, I think that the less we speak to each other, the better.

You see, talk is not cheap. The Kabbalists teach that the words we speak have a tremendous creative power to them. Just as G-d created the world by speaking words (for example: G-d said, “Let there be light”, and there was light), so, too, did He endow in us the same power with our words. And if we don’t know how to follow G-d’s example and to use our words properly, i.e. to create and build up and encourage others with the words we speak, instead of using them to destroy and put down and discourage others, then maybe it’s better that we refrain from using them altogether unless absolutely necessary.

This idea is powerfully illustrated in Psalm 34, which has been incorporated into the Shabbos Morning Prayer Service. There King David writes: “Which man desires life, who loves days of seeing good? Guard your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit” (Tehillim 34:13-14).

The Baal Shem Tov explains the verse as follows: Every person is allotted only a certain amount of words to use for his entire lifetime, hopefully in constructive ways. Once he has used up his ‘quota’, he must depart from this world. (see Midrash HaGadol Exodus 7:9). Thus, by guarding his tongue and using his words wisely, one assures himself of greater longevity.

In this week's double Torah portion we find the laws of tzara’as. (Tzara’as is sometimes translated as leprosy, but the Sages teach us that it is not the bodily disease known as Hansen’s Disease; rather it is the physical manifestation of a spiritual malaise, a punishment designed to show the sinner that he must mend his ways.)

The primary cause of tzara’as is the sin of Loshon Hara, or slander. This is why Miriam, Moses' sister, when she spoke against her brother, was afflicted with tzara’as (see Numbers 12:10).

As part of his atonement for the sin of Loshon Hara and to purify himself from his tzara’as, the sinner must bring to the Temple, among other things, two live birds (see Leviticus 14:4-8). Rashi quotes the Talmud in Arachin 16b which explains that since the sinner’s tzara’as affliction came in punishment for the ‘chatter’ of gossip and slander, his purification is effected by means of chirping, chattering birds.

Through the laws of tzara’as, the Torah is teaching us the deep, underlying reason why so many of us so often use our power of speech in a destructive manner - and how we can rectify it. We simply don’t appreciate the awesome, creative (and destructive) power of our words. We erroneously think that our talk is cheap and meaningless, so we cheep, chatter, and chirp like birds all day long, often talking disparagingly about anyone and everyone, without realizing how much damage we are causing.

Once we realize the tremendous power that our words have – for good and for bad - we will likely think twice before using them, and our world will be a kinder, gentler place.

I would like to conclude with a true story that happened in the recent past and which highlights the destructive power of words spoken cheaply and without forethought:

A well-known Rebbetzin (the wife of a rabbi) was travelling on a bus, and two young girls were sitting behind her and speaking Loshon Hara about one of their classmates who had recently become engaged. They said all kinds of nasty things about the girl, and agreed that the guy who is marrying her is to be pitied. After overhearing their conversation, the Rebbetzin turned around and thanked them for their words. She explained that she was in fact the mother of the Chassan (the groom) and that she planned to break off the engagement immediately, based on what just heard them say about the Kallah (the bride). “After all”, she said, “I don’t want my son to be ‘pitied’!” The two girls were now in total shock, realizing the great damage that their words had caused. They quickly told the Rebbetzin that they were exaggerating and that their words were not meant to be taken seriously. The Rebbetzin responded that she didn’t believe them - that they were only covering up because they didn’t want to be the cause of a broken engagement – and that she still planned on breaking it off. The two girls were so upset with what they had done that they started crying bitter tears. Seeing how the two had learned their lesson and now understood the tremendous and irreparable damage that their ‘seemingly meaningless’ conversation on the bus almost caused, the Rebbetzin revealed to them that she was not, in fact, the mother of the Chassan, and that she had only wanted to teach them a lesson they would surely never forget.

Let’s hope we don’t forget this powerful lesson either ...

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