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And Nothing But a Part of the Truth?
Mrs. Nili Turetsky
In this week’s Parsha, we learn about the punishment of Tzara’at which is meted out to those who spoke Lashon Hara. In general, we apply the principle of Middah KiNegged Middah with regards to punishment for our sins. There has to be a concept of quid pro quo, that the punishment is a reflection of the sin committed. Since that is the case, by analyzing the punishment, one can come to a deeper appreciation of the underlying issue in the sin itself. What is the connection between Tzara’at and Lashon Hara? Why is someone who spoke Lashon Hara punished with Tzara’at? An additional question that bears asking is that one who speaks Lashon Hara is speaking the truth. This is one of the characteristics of Lashon Hara. What’s so bad about sharing the truth? Why does the Torah view the sin of Lashon Hara as so severe when all it entails is disseminating the truth?
Rabbi Yochanan Zweig explains that we can understand the answers to these questions by simple turning on the news or opening a newspaper. Who among us has not seen pictures of army brutality; an Israeli soldier beating a Palestinian youth, Palestinian children cowering in fear from Israeli missile attacks, etc. These pictures or reports may be absolutely true, but they do not show the whole picture. Missing is the footage of the Palestinian youth throwing rocks or grenades, which resulted in the soldier apprehending him. Missing is the explanation of years of rocket attacks into peaceful Israeli neighborhoods, causing trauma and destruction, which resulted in the response of the missile attack. Or take for example, our own lives; how much of who you truly are can be seen or understood from a short 15 minute clip of your life? It’s missing the whole picture. If that 15 minute clip caught you on a bad day, it would distort the reality of who you truly are.
What is Lashon Hara? It’s a true, negative statement about someone else. (In a very simplified definition…) Lashon Hara focuses on someone’s negative traits, or something negative they did. But that may only be a very small part of their personality! A person is a composite of many complex facets and attributes. When someone speaks poorly of someone else, they are creating a perception of that person as a completely negative entity. This twists the truth and doesn’t give a full picture, much like media coverage can do. Anyone who has heard this Lashon Hara will automatically associate this person with these negative traits or actions, usually without analyzing or seeking out the bigger picture or trying to understand the person as a whole.
It’s now clear why Tzara’at is the punishment a person who speaks Lashon Hara receives. A person can find a small spot, a small blemish on their body, but that small spot is enough to spiritually contaminate their entire body. Lashon Hara does the exact same thing. A small thing repeated about someone else is enough to contaminate or invalidate a whole other being despite all their good traits.
In this Sefirat HaOmer period, when we try to strengthen our connection to our fellow Jew, let’s try and see each person as complete beings and not focus on minor imperfections.
1: Parshat Shavua