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Parashat Tazria-Metzora: Speak No Evil

Words. Words have a lot of power. They have the power to inspire and raise people up. They have the power to teach, to guide, to mold, to create, to build. However, they also have the power to tear down, to destroy, to cause chaos and pain, to hurt. Think about how much hatred is out in the world because of words. Think about what words stir up. Think about how the change things (for better or for worse). We all have the power to use our words. We all have a part to play in controlling how words are used. How they make an impact. Look back for a moment. Have you ever been hurt by someone’s words? Have you hurt someone with your words? The answers are probably “yes” and “yes,” whether intentionally or unintentionally each and every one of us has been hurt or hurt someone else with words. The question is, what could you have done instead? What could you have said or written differently? What were the consequences?

In this week’s Torah portion, Tazria-Metzora, we are focused on what to do with uncleanliness (after childbirth, on the skin, in the house). In fact, there is an entire section on unclean afflictions of the skin, or tzaarat scaly afflictions. Leprosy is mentioned, as is white scales. Many commentators believe tzaarat are caused by lashon hara evil speech. Words. Evil words. Evil words spoken about someone else. Gossip and rumors that are spread. Later on in the Book of Numbers, G-d catches Miriam and Aaron speaking unkindly about Moses’s wife. G-d punishes Miriam for this by striking her with a scaly affliction on her skin. So evil words, ugly words, have the power to transform the body, the self. The ugliness of evil words does not stay hidden for long. There are always consequences. Like it is explained in Midrash Tehilim, “Evil talk is like an arrow. A person who unsheathes a sword can regret his intention and return it to its sheath. But the arrow cannot be retrieved.” We cannot take back the things that are said, but we do have the power to try to do better. To catch ourselves in the act. To think about how it feels when someone else speaks unkindly about you.

Tonight at your Shabbat table think about your words. Think about how you use them. Think about how you can use them for good rather than evil. Don’t let your words be a tzaarat on your skin. Control the narrative. Don’t let evil speech, evil words control the world. Control them. Be accountable, and take responsibility. Stand up for yourself. Stand up for others.

Shabbat Shalom!