In this week’s Parasha we learn about the Metzora – a person who is afflicted and cast out of the camp because of the sin of slander.
The Midrash explains that the word Metzora can be read Motsi Shem Ra – referring to a person who has ‘brought out a bad name’ or slandered others.
Slander can be so bad; it can be the cause of death. Yet there is a secret antidote that can cause life.
Who doesn’t want life? What would you give for life? How much would you be willing to spend? What if I was to reveal a secret that can guarantee you life? Not just for one hundred and twenty years, of course. I’m talking eternal life! How much would you be inclined to invest?
Before we get there, did you know that it is possible to acquire (Chas VeShalom) Gehinom twice?!
The Gemara (Yuma 72b) cites Rava’s warning to his students: “I beg you, do not acquire Gehinom twice”. How does one acquire Gehinom twice? By foregoing life in this world and giving up life in the next world.
Rashi explains that this can happen when one toils in Torah yet does not observe it. One can, for example, sit and learn the entire day, only to leave the Beit Midrash during his break and speak Lashon Hara.
The Chovot Halevavot (Shaar Hachnia perek 7) relates that, when one speaks Lashon Hara about another, he “merits” his friend’s sins being transferred to him, and his own Mitsvot being transferred to the one who was the object of his Lashon Hara. By spending his time learning Torah, he did not enjoy what this world had to offer, and by speaking Lashon Hara afterwards, any merit he may have received from his learning and performance of Mitsvot were given to the other person, thereby forfeiting his share in the next world – he has thereby inherited two Gehinoms!!
What about the secret of life, how can we earn eternity in both worlds?
The Midrash on our Parasha reveals the secret: “A certain peddler once peddled his wares in the villages around Tzippori. He called out, ‘Who wants to buy an elixir of life?!’ Many people crowded around him to purchase his merchandise. Rabi Yannai was sitting and learning Torah in his house. He called to the peddler, ‘Come up here and sell me what you have!’. Said the peddler: ‘Neither you nor those like you need what I am selling.’ Rabi Yannai entreated him, and the peddler went up to him. The peddler took out a Tehilim and showed him the verse, ‘Who is the man who desires life, who loves days of seeing good?’ What is written subsequently? ‘Guard your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit…(Tehilim 34:13-14).’ Exclaimed Rabi Yannai, ‘All my days I have read this verse, but I did not know what it meant until this peddler came and explained it to me!’ (Vayikra Rabba 16:2).”
This Midrash seems hard to understand. What exactly was the peddler selling, and did Rabi Yannai not understand the literal meaning of this verse?
The Maharzu (Rav Zev Wolf Einhorn, in his commentary on the Midrash) explains
that Lashon Hara is not like all other sins. Most sins can be dealt with on an individual basis. This is because most sins are individual — i.e. isolated instances of evil. But regarding Lashon Hara, the Gemara affirms that “Everyone is guilty of Lashon Hara” (Bava Batra 165a). It is like a plague and nobody is immune.
It is powerful and thus needs a powerful antidote.
This is what the peddler taught Rabi Yannai. It is not sufficient to deal with Lashon Hara on a one-to-one basis. Not only must one try daily not to speak it, but more than that, he must encourage others not to speak. By publicising its potency and power to take and give life, one helps fix any wrong doing he might have caused in the past, and earns himself eternal life. However, believe it or not, to merit real life, it is not sufficient merely to guard one’s tongue. There is one additional, vital ingredient, without which the recipe is seriously lacking. “Perhaps a person might say, ‘I guarded my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking deceit. Now let me spend the rest of my time sleeping!’ Thus the next verse says, ‘Turn from evil and do good (Tehilim 34:15)!’ ‘Good‘ refers to learning Torah, as it says, ‘For I have given you a good teaching, do not forsake my Torah (Mishlei 4:2)’ (Avoda Zara 19b). We can thus understand whythe peddler told Rabi Yannai, “Neither you nor those like you — diligent students of Hashem’s Torah — need what I am selling.” Not only are you guarding your tongue from speaking Lashon Hara, but you are using that same tongue to speak and do good.
The Chafetz Chaim once visited a potential supporter of the Yeshiva. The Chafetz Chaim sensed the conversation was heading towards Lashon Harah. He noticed a telegram on the man’s desk. “It seems as if you’ve rewritten this telegram a few times” he remarked. “Yes,” said the man, “Every word costs me money. I’ve taken great care to write only what’s necessary.” The Chafetz Chaim responded, “If only people were so careful with the words they use as you are with your telegram.” After that comment, you could be sure the man thought carefully about what he was going to say.
Our mouths make us human. Such a special gift! Yet, astoundingly, though most people are concerned with what they put in their mouths, they are thoroughly callous regarding what comes out. Not so the Torah Jew.
The more we channel our power of speech in the direction of Kedusha (holiness), the more alive we will be — for now and forever more!