A little bit of Torah to bring in Shabbat!
From your Penn State Hillel Staff
D’var Torah–literally a “word of Torah,” a lesson or sermon interpreting a text, which can be delivered by anyone reflects a fundamental Jewish belief in the infinite interpretive possibilities of Torah. This concept is best articulated in Mishnah Avot 5:22, “Turn it and turn it; for everything is in it,” and in the rabbinic assertion that each person who stood at Sinai saw a different face of Torah (myjewishlearning.com).
4/28/2017 - TAZRIA-METZORA - LEVITICUS
By Hannah Giterman, Director of Community Enagement
This week’s Torah portion is not an easy Torah portion to read and probably not a favorable one for B’nai Mitzvah to read aloud (I would know, it was mine). In this week’s parsha, Tazria- Metzora, we’re dealing with some archaic laws around tumah and taharah, purity and impurity. The portion opens with the laws of childbirth; God describes the rituals of purification for woman after childbirth and how they differ for the birth of a male vs. female (note: a topic for another time, gender inequality in Torah). Next, we get into the ins and outs of tzara-at, a skin disease often translated as leprosy. God explains the methods of diagnosing and treating this disease, how the sufferer should work with the high priest to cure the disease, and how a community should respond to those baring the illness.
For this week’s d’var, some lessons learned from this gnarly disease, tzara-at. The Torah goes into great detail about the skin diseases that afflicted the community at that time. We read about the different types, how they are diagnosed, and the effects this had community. Ultimately, the Kohen, or high priest, is the man with the answers -- he observes each case and determines what should be done next. This ultimately leads to the diseased being recognized as “impure”, being held in quarantine for 7 days, or more, and/or being removed from the community until cured and reconsidered as “pure”.
There are a lot of questions that can be asked from this parsha, but I wanted to know how one even contracted such an awful disease? Later we learn that lashan hara, translated as gossip, slander, or evil speak, is the main culprit. Yup, that’s right, gossip. We’ve all been effected by or participated in gossip. We’ve shared stories that weren’t ours to share, we’ve told rumors we heard in the hallway, and we’ve been hurt by slander from others. Since we’re not exactly contracting tzara-at after every ill word we speak, what is the lesson here?
A Jewish folktale vividly illustrates this lesson: a man went about the community telling rumors of his neighbor. Later, realizing the damage he has caused, he began to feel remorse. He went to the rabbi and begged for forgiveness, saying he would do anything to make amends. The rabbi told the man, "go to the store and buy a feather pillow, cut it open, and on your way home, leave a trail of feathers." The man thought this was a strange request, but simple enough that he gladly participated. The next day, the man returns to the rabbi and aske what was next.
“Now go and gather the feathers,” the rabbi instructed the man. What seemed a simple task turned out to be impossible; the feathers had flown far and wide and the man could not retrieve a single one. Upset and discouraged, the man returned to the rabbi to admit that he had not succeeded. The rabbi said, “You can no more make amends for the damage your words have caused than you can collect the feathers that have flown far and wide.”
This is lashan hara. Once a story, a rumor, or gossip leaves your lips, you never know where it could end up. Like feathers in the wind, lashan hara carelessly floats from one ear to the next, never fully disappearing. Although we may consider the Torah’s description of consequences for lashan hara a bit extreme, we are taught a valuable lesson. We must remember to think before we speak and consider how our words affect those around us. Fortunately, for us, we don’t develop tzara-at but the effects our words have on others remain the same.
We are taught by the Talmud that lashon ha-ra kills three: the person who speaks it, the person who hears it, and the person about whom it is told.