Tazria -Metzorah Lashon Hara-- How we speak about one another and the world.
1א
2ב

Dear Teachers,

The rabbis interpreted "leprosy" (as it is often translated), the skin disease described in this parsha, as a consequence of Lashon Hara, the evil tongue. That connection is made explicitly in Numbers, when Miriam is punished for how she speaks about Moses with this same skin disease.

In order for your students to have a story to hook some of these ideas on, consider studying the story in Numbers 12 first (below). You might also consider looking at the stories of the spies (Numbers 13) as well. Their negative report about the promised land was also considered lashon hara.

Themes:

  • Consider that God creates the world through language-- if you like go back to Genesis 1:1-- invite your students to think about how we create our worlds through language each day.
  • Using the story of Miriam and Aaron explore why we speak badly about one another. What is the effect on us? How does it effect the other person?
3ג
(א) וַתְּדַבֵּ֨ר מִרְיָ֤ם וְאַהֲרֹן֙ בְּמֹשֶׁ֔ה עַל־אֹד֛וֹת הָאִשָּׁ֥ה הַכֻּשִׁ֖ית אֲשֶׁ֣ר לָקָ֑ח כִּֽי־אִשָּׁ֥ה כֻשִׁ֖ית לָקָֽח׃ (ב) וַיֹּאמְר֗וּ הֲרַ֤ק אַךְ־בְּמֹשֶׁה֙ דִּבֶּ֣ר יקוק הֲלֹ֖א גַּם־בָּ֣נוּ דִבֵּ֑ר וַיִּשְׁמַ֖ע יְהוָֽה׃ (ג) וְהָאִ֥ישׁ מֹשֶׁ֖ה ענו [עָנָ֣יו] מְאֹ֑ד מִכֹּל֙ הָֽאָדָ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֖ר עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הָאֲדָמָֽה׃ (ס) (ד) וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יקוק פִּתְאֹ֗ם אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֤ה וְאֶֽל־אַהֲרֹן֙ וְאֶל־מִרְיָ֔ם צְא֥וּ שְׁלָשְׁתְּכֶ֖ם אֶל־אֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵ֑ד וַיֵּצְא֖וּ שְׁלָשְׁתָּֽם׃ (ה) וַיֵּ֤רֶד יקוק בְּעַמּ֣וּד עָנָ֔ן וַֽיַּעֲמֹ֖ד פֶּ֣תַח הָאֹ֑הֶל וַיִּקְרָא֙ אַהֲרֹ֣ן וּמִרְיָ֔ם וַיֵּצְא֖וּ שְׁנֵיהֶֽם׃ (ו) וַיֹּ֖אמֶר שִׁמְעוּ־נָ֣א דְבָרָ֑י אִם־יִֽהְיֶה֙ נְבִ֣יאֲכֶ֔ם יקוק בַּמַּרְאָה֙ אֵלָ֣יו אֶתְוַדָּ֔ע בַּחֲל֖וֹם אֲדַבֶּר־בּֽוֹ׃ (ז) לֹא־כֵ֖ן עַבְדִּ֣י מֹשֶׁ֑ה בְּכָל־בֵּיתִ֖י נֶאֱמָ֥ן הֽוּא׃ (ח) פֶּ֣ה אֶל־פֶּ֞ה אֲדַבֶּר־בּ֗וֹ וּמַרְאֶה֙ וְלֹ֣א בְחִידֹ֔ת וּתְמֻנַ֥ת יקוק יַבִּ֑יט וּמַדּ֙וּעַ֙ לֹ֣א יְרֵאתֶ֔ם לְדַבֵּ֖ר בְּעַבְדִּ֥י בְמֹשֶֽׁה׃ (ט) וַיִּֽחַר אַ֧ף יקוק בָּ֖ם וַיֵּלַֽךְ׃ (י) וְהֶעָנָ֗ן סָ֚ר מֵעַ֣ל הָאֹ֔הֶל וְהִנֵּ֥ה מִרְיָ֖ם מְצֹרַ֣עַת כַּשָּׁ֑לֶג וַיִּ֧פֶן אַהֲרֹ֛ן אֶל־מִרְיָ֖ם וְהִנֵּ֥ה מְצֹרָֽעַת׃
(1) And Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married; for he had married a Cushite woman. (2) And they said: ‘Hath the LORD indeed spoken only with Moses? hath He not spoken also with us?’ And the LORD heard it.— (3) Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men that were upon the face of the earth.— (4) And the LORD spoke suddenly unto Moses, and unto Aaron, and unto Miriam: ‘Come out ye three unto the tent of meeting.’ And they three came out. (5) And the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud, and stood at the door of the Tent, and called Aaron and Miriam; and they both came forth. (6) And He said: ‘Hear now My words: if there be a prophet among you, I the LORD do make Myself known unto him in a vision, I do speak with him in a dream. (7) My servant Moses is not so; he is trusted in all My house; (8) with him do I speak mouth to mouth, even manifestly, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the LORD doth he behold; wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against My servant, against Moses?’ (9) And the anger of the LORD was kindled against them; and He departed. (10) And when the cloud was removed from over the Tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, as white as snow; and Aaron looked upon Miriam; and, behold, she was leprous.
4ד

Questions:

1. What are Miriam and Aaron speaking about?

2. How does verse 1 relate to verse 2?

3. Why do you think God gets so angry?

5ה

...מה נשתנה מצורע שאמרה תורה (ויקרא יג, מו) בדד ישב מחוץ למחנה מושבו הוא הבדיל בין איש לאשתו בין איש לרעהו לפיכך אמרה תורה בדד ישב וגו'....

Why does it say by the leper "He shall sit alone outside the camp"? Since he brought division between a man & his wife, between 2 friends therefore let him sit alone...

RAMBAM
6ו
(י) הצרעת הוא שם האמור בשותפות כולל עניינים הרבה שאין דומין זה לזה שהרי לובן עור האדם קרוי צרעת ונפילת קצת שיער הראש או הזקן קרוי צרעת ושינוי עין הבגדים או הבתים קרוי צרעת וזה השינוי האמור בבגדים ובבתים שקראתו תורה צרעת בשותפות השם אינו ממנהגו של עולם אלא אות ופלא היה בישראל כדי להזהירן מלשון הרע שהמספר בלשון הרע משתנות קירות ביתו אם חזר בו יטהר הבית אם עמד ברשעו עד שהותץ הבית משתנין כלי העור שבביתו שהוא יושב ושוכב עליהן אם חזר בו יטהרו ואם עמד ברשעו עד שישרפו משתנין הבגדים שעליו אם חזר בו יטהרו ואם עמד ברשעו עד שישרפו משתנה עורו ויצטרע ויהיה מובדל ומפורסם לבדו עד שלא יתעסק בשיחת הרשעים שהוא הליצנות ולשון הרע ועל עניין זה מזהיר בתורה ואומר השמר בנגע הצרעת זכור את אשר עשה י"י אלהיך למרים בדרך הרי הוא אומר התבוננו מה אירע למרים הנביאה שדיברה באחיה שהיתה גדולה ממנו בשנים וגידלתו על ברכיה וסכנה בעצמה להצילו מן הים והיא לא דברה בגנותו אלא טעתה שהשותו לשאר נביאים והוא לא הקפיד על כל הדברים האלו שנאמר והאיש משה ענו מאד ואע"פ כן מיד נענשה בצרעת קל וחומר לבני אדם הרשעים הטפשים שמרבים לדבר גדולות ונפלאות:לפיכך ראוי למי שרוצה לכוין אורחותיו להתרחק מישיבתן ומלדבר עמהן כדי שלא יתפס אדם ברשת רשעים וסכלותם וזה דרך ישיבת הלצים הרשעים בתחילה מרבין בדברי הבאי כענין שנאמר וקול כסיל ברוב דברים ומתוך כך באין לספר בגנות הצדיקים כענין שנאמר תאלמנה שפתי שקר הדוברות על צדיק עתק ומתוך כך יהיה להן הרגל לדבר בנביאים ולתת דופי בדבריהם כענין שנאמר ויהיו מלעיבים במלאכי האלהים ובוזים דברים ומתעתעים בנביאיו ומתוך כך באין לדבר באלהים וכופרין בעיקר כענין שנאמר ויחפאו בני ישראל דברים אשר לא כן על י"י אלהיהם והרי הוא אומר שתו בשמים פיהם ולשונם תהלך בארץ מי גרם להם לשית בשמים פיהם לשונם שהלכה תחילה בארץ זו היא שיחת הרשעים שגורמת להן ישיבת קרנות וישיבת כנסיות של עמי הארץ וישיבת בתי משתאות עם שותי שכר אבל שיחת כשרי ישראל אינה אלא בדברי תורה וחכמה לפיכך הקדוש ברוך הוא עוזר על ידן ומזכה אותן בה שנאמר אז נדברו יראי י"י איש אל רעהו ויקשב י"י וישמע ויכתב ספר זכרון לפניו ליראי י"י ולחושבי שמו:סליקו להו הלכות טומאת צרעת:
(10) Tzara'at is a collective term including many afflictions that do not resemble each other. For the whitening of a person's skin is called tzara'at, as is the falling out of some of the hair of his head or beard, and the change of the color of clothes or houses. This change that affects clothes and houses which the Torah described with the general term of tzara'at is not a natural occurrence. Instead it is a sign and a wonder prevalent among the Jewish people to warn them against lashon hora, "undesirable speech." When a person speaks lashon hora, the walls of his house change color. If he repents, the house will be purified. If, however, he persists in his wickedness until the house is destroyed, the leather implements in his house upon which he sits and lies change color. If he repents, they will be purified. If persists in his wickedness until they are burnt, the clothes he wears change color. If he repents, they will be purified. If he persists in his wickedness until they are burnt, his skin undergoes changes and he develops tzara'at. This causes him to be isolated and for it to be made known that he must remain alone so that he will not be involved in the talk of the wicked which is folly and lashon hora. The Torah warns about this, stating Deuteronomy 24:8-9: "Take care with regard to a tzara'at blemish.... Remember what God your Lord did to Miriam." Now, this is what the Torah is implying: Contemplate what happened to the prophetess Miriam. She spoke against her brother. She was older than he was; she had raised him; and she had endangered herself to save him from the sea. She did not speak pejoratively of him; she merely erred in equating him with the other prophets. Moses did not object to any of this, as Numbers 12:3 relates: "And the man Moses was exceedingly humble." Nevertheless, she was immediately punished with tzara'at. Certainly, an inference can be made with regard to the wicked and foolish men who speak extensively about great and wondrous matters. Therefore a person who seeks to structure his course of conduct should distance himself from their gatherings and from speaking to them so that he will not become caught up in the web of their wickedness and foolishness. This is the path followed by the gathering of wicked fools: In the beginning, they speak excessively about empty matters, as Ecclesiastes 5:2 states: "The talk of a fool is characterized by a multitude of words." As a result of this, they come to speak negatively of the righteous, as reflected by the verse Psalms 31:19: "May the lying lips be silenced; those which speak falsehood about a righteous man." As a consequence, they will become accustomed to speaking against the prophets and casting aspersions on their words, as reflected by the verse II Chronicles 36:16: "They would abuse the messengers of God, scorn His words, and mock His prophets." And this would lead them to deny God's existence entirely, as reflected in the verse II Kings 17:9: "And the children of Israel spoke in secret things that were not true against God, their Lord." In this vein, Psalms 73:9 states: "They set their mouths against Heaven and their tongues strut on earth." What caused them to "set their mouths against Heaven"? Their tongues which previously were given free reign on earth. This is the speech of the wicked that is caused by loitering on the streetcorners, frequenting the assemblies of commoners, and spending time at the parties of drunkards. In contrast, the speech of proper Jewish people only concerns words of Torah and wisdom. Therefore, the Holy One, blessed be He, assists them and grants them merit because of it, as Malachi 3:16 states: "Then those who fear God conversed, each person with his fellow and God listened and paid heed. And a book of remembrance was composed before Him for those who fear God and contemplate His name."
7ז

A Hasidic Story about Lashon Hara:

A man went about his town telling malicious lies about the rabbi. Later, he realized the wrong he had done, and began to feel remorse. He went to the rabbi and begged his forgiveness, saying he would do anything he could to make amends. The rabbi told the man, “Take a feather pillow, cut it open, and scatter the feathers to the winds.” The man thought this was a strange request, but it was a simple enough task, and he did it gladly. When he returned to tell the rabbi that he had done it, the rabbi said, “Now, go and gather the feathers. Because you can no more make amends for the damage your word

have done than you can recollect the feathers.”

From http://www.gatherthepeople.org/Downloads/LASHON_HARA.pdf

8ח

Activity for Younger Kids:

Read the hasidic story. Go outside with your students and blow bubbles (in lieu of collecting feathers). Ask your kids to go and catch them.

Activity for Older Kids:

Soul Mirror:

In the novel The Portrait of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde features a portrait that reflects the inner state of Dorian Gray's soul. Ask your students to consider the good things they do as well as some of the things they do that they feel badly about and how that might physically mark their souls. Ask them to create a self portrait.

Discuss with them the best way to address things they've done that they feel badly about. What does it mean to repair relationships? How might their "soul portrait" shift?

9ט

For other texts related to Lashon Hara see this document.