by R' Yerachmiel Kram
The Sin of Loshon Hora
"And this shall be the law of the metzora on the day
of his purification; and he shall be brought to the
Kohen" (Vayikra 14:1).
The Lesion of Tzora'as Comes for the Sin of Loshon
From the words of Chazal we learn that tzora'as is not
a sickness that comes incidentally, but one that is a result
of speaking loshon hora. "Said Reish Lokish: Why does
it say, `This shall be the law of the metzora'? [To
teach] That these are laws of the [acronym] motzi shem
ra (one who slanders another's reputation)"
(Erchin 15b). More precisely, metzora is a
contracted form of motzi ra.
The gemora there goes on to say, "R' Yossi ben Zimra
said: Whoever relates evil gossip is punished by lesions, as
it is written, "Meloshni -- One who slanders his
neighbor in secret, him shall I cut off." Elsewhere the same
root (atzmis) is used to denote "forever" or
"altogether" (litzmisus). The Maharsha explains that
while Chazal note that tzora'as is a punishment for
any of seven types of sins, yet it seems that the other six
enumerated by them are atoned for by the confinement and
isolation of the metzora, whereas the sin of the
loshon hora is not atoned for in this way. In this
case, he is quarantined forever, that is, until he repents
before Hashem and the lesion disappears entirely from his
For this reason, the Admor R' Pinchos of Koritz used to say
that the Torah begins the portion of the metzora with,
"When a man shall have in the skin of his flesh a swelling, a
scab, or bright spot, and it be (vehoyo) in the skin
of his flesh the plague of tzora'as . . . "
(Vayikra 13:2). The word "and it be" usually denotes
joy in this conjugation, whereas the plague of
tzora'as is a painful one since it must serve as an
altar of atonement for a serious sin. But just as a person is
meant to rejoice after Yom Kippur, so must he also rejoice if
[he sinned and] he is being punished through tzora'as
which will atone for his sin.
Lesions and Their Purification -- Measure for
Tzora'as is a form of punishment that is meted out
measure for measure to one who slandered a fellow man. It has
very painful repercussions. "He shall sit alone; outside the
camp shall be his place" (Vayikra 13:15). Through his
gossip, the tale- bearer sought to cause dissension and
strife between man and his fellow man. As a fitting
punishment, he is isolated himself, by being forced to remain
beyond the three camps, far from social contact, from friends
and relatives (Erchin 16b).
When the leper (Note: We shall sometimes use "leper" as a
synonym for metzora, even though they are not the same
thing) is about to be purified, he must bring two birds.
These creatures are always chattering away during their
wakeful hours, a fact that is meant to remind the leper of
his sin in speech; he spoke too much, he chattered
Aside from the birds, he must also bring some cedar (eitz
erez), a scarlet thread and moss (eizove). The
cedar alludes to haughtiness (Rashi, Vayikra 14:4). It
was his sense of superiority over another that led to his
diminishing the latter's stature by speaking bad of him. The
scarlet and the moss come to indicate his way to repentance:
"What are his means of amends to heal him? Let him lower
himself from his haughtiness [to become] like the [worm which
produces the] scarlet and like the lowly moss" (Rashi
To Remove Tzora'as, Deal With Its Causes
One must regard tzora'as as a signal, a control light
that turns on in order to warn that something is amiss and
must be dealt with before it is too late. The example is of a
person who was driving along when the red light began
flashing on the dashboard. The driver duly pulled into a gas
station, but instead of asking for service, he told the
mechanic to disconnect the little flashing bulb. This was
foolish, of course, since the light indicated that the fuel
was running low. If he had any sense, he would have asked the
mechanic to fill the tank and thus solve the problem since
the light would have stopped blinking once the fuel supply
had been replenished.
The mechanic did as he was bid and disconnected one of the
wires and the light stopped flashing. The dashboard was now
at peace. But not for long. After a short drive, the engine
stalled; it stopped altogether.
What was the error? The bulb was only a symptom of the defect
that was much more serious.
Deal with the Fuel and Not with the Warning Light
Gedolei Yisroel knew the secret of the red light.
Whenever troubles visited them, they related to the symptom
as a signal from Heaven to tackle the real problem. The
gemora tells of R' Huna whose wine cellars suffered a
terrible disaster: four hundred barrels of wine went sour. He
was very upset and went to the beis midrash to tell
his comrade amoraim about it.
How would we react if a neighbor of ours told us of such a
We would surely advise him to inspect the quality of the
grapes, the sugar, the barrels and perhaps even the
temperature and climate of the cellar. But Rav Huna's
colleagues advised him to inspect his deeds. When he
justified himself and asked them with annoyance if they
suspected him of any sin, they replied in like language, "And
do you, then, suspect Hashem of not dealing justly with
In the end, it turned out that for certain reasons, he had
not paid a sharecropper of his the full sum that was due him.
After Rav Huna resolved to right this wrong, the vinegar
turned back into wine. According to another opinion, nothing
happened to the vinegar, but its market price suddenly rose
so that he did not lose out.
Jewish Sages had the perception to realize that one does not
tamper with the control light or deal with the natural
reasons that might cause wine to go sour. One must go
straight to the true spiritual cause and remedy the failure.
Correct the fault at its source and find out why Hashem chose
to make the wine go sour.
This is what Yehoshua did when thirty-six men were killed in
the war against Ai. He did not establish an investigating
committee to examine the military shortcomings. Instead, he
turned in prayer to Hashem until he learned that the reason
for this military failure related to the violation of the
cheirem by Ochon ben Karmi.
No wormy barrels nor the lack of bulletproof vests. Instead,
they pointed directly to the root of the problem, the
spiritual fault which had caused the damage. When a person is
afflicted with leprosy, he must not seek natural ways to heal
this condition, which, in any case, is not a natural
affliction. Instead, he should inspect himself and remedy
whatever caused it to erupt in the first place. He must not
disconnect the warning red light, even if it makes him
nervous, but must deal with the reason behind the warning
The Various Lesions as a Series of Heavenly
Tzora'as does not attack the gossip mongerers
immediately. At first, it invades the houses of the
slanderer, then his clothing and finally, if he was not wise
enough to heed the warnings, his own body. This is how the
Rambam describes it at the end of the laws of
"Tzora'as is a collective term for many things that do
not even resemble one another. For the whitened skin in man
is called leprosy just as is the fallen edge of hair on the
head or the beard. The change of appearance of a garment is
also called tzora'as, as is the lesion upon a
"The changes one sees in clothing and in houses, which the
Torah refers to as tzora'as, sharing the same name, is
not something commonly seen in the world. Rather, it is a
wondrous sign prevalent only among Jewry in order to warn
them against loshon hora. One who spreads evil gossip
is afflicted through the walls of his home. If he repents,
the house is purified. If he persists in his wickedness even
after the house is demolished, the vessels therein, those
upon which he sits and lies, become afflicted. If he repents,
they are purified but if he persists in his wickedness even
after they are burned, his very skin is transformed and
becomes leprous, forcing him to be isolated and socially
quarantined for all to know, so that he stop his wicked
speech, which is mockery and evil gossip.
"The Torah warns us against this and says: Guard yourself
against the plague of tzora'as . . . Remember what
Hashem your G-d did to Miriam along the way" (Rambam,
Hilchos Tumas Hatzora'as, chap. 16:24).
It is apparent that the leper traverses a long road of
stubbornness and rebelliousness until he finally reaches the
state where the leprosy attacks his body and he is isolated
from society beyond the camps.
In his famous work, Shemiras Haloshon, Rabbenu Yisroel
Meir HaKohen adds that actually, the entire gamut of lesions
and their manner of treatment is designed to rouse the sinner
to repent wholeheartedly. For even if the plague attacked
only his home, he is required to summon the Kohen, who
will certainly rebuke and reproach him concerning the sin of
If he does not heed the Kohen's words, his condition
deteriorates further and further until he is forced to go
into social quarantine, outside of the camps, and publicize
his plague whenever he does go forth, to warn people away
from him and so that they pray for him for Heavenly mercy. In
such a condition, his heart will surely become subdued and he
will certainly resolve never to revert to his evil habit. In
this condition of remorse, he will surely become healed from
his tzora'as and will follow the course of
purification, as written in this portion.
It seems that even afterwards, when he returns to his home,
he remains cognizant of the kindness which Hashem did with
him after he was healed. He will surely continue to uphold
all the resolutions he assumed upon himself while he was
isolated. He will surely be most cautious in not speaking
evil gossip, and will take steps to appease all those whom he
slandered. In this way, he will have become completely
purified, both from the actual lesion and from the sin which
brought it about. His past will have been atoned for through
his punishment and debasement, while in the future, he will
surely be most careful not to succumb to this sin ever again
(Shemiras Haloshon, Shaar Hazechira, chap. 6).
"When a Persons Sins and Repeats It"
The Torah commentators derived a marvelous lesson from the
entire long process that begins with the lesions upon the
house and ends with the plague upon his very body, from the
text dealing with the plagues upon the houses.
The Torah states: "And the one who owns the house shall come
and tell the Kohen, saying: Such a lesion appeared to
me in my house" (Vayikra 14:35). On the other hand,
when the Torah speaks about the lesion upon the body, it
says: "If a man shall have in the skin of his flesh a
swelling, a scab, or bright spot, and it be in the skin of
his flesh the plague of tzora'as, then he shall be
brought to Aharon HaKohen or to one of his sons, the
kohanim" (Vayikra 13:2).
In the first instance, the person approaches the Kohen
of his own initiative, while in the second, he is brought
before the Kohen by others. When the plague afflicted
his house alone, he was not yet fully immersed in his sin.
Thus, when he noticed the plague spreading upon the walls of
his home he went of his own volition to make amends and
follow the process of repentance.
But if a person persisted in this very sin and wallowed in it
to the point that he was punished upon his very corpus, he is
no longer cognizant of the degree of his sin; he has become
accustomed to indulging in forbidden talk to this point of
affliction. And at this point, he sees nothing terrible in
the sin; it has become part of his nature and habitual to the
point that he feels no need for purification. At this low
spiritual level, he sees no need to approach the Kohen
for help. And if he does, it is only because of pressure put
upon him by others who intervene and insist that he go. "And
he is brought to the Kohen" (Shema Shlomo).
The Impurity is Dependent upon the Pronouncement of the
We find an most interesting aspect regarding the impurity of
lesions which differs from other forms of impurity. In other
forms, even if a halachic authority expresses his learned
opinion, he is only stating what the Torah subscribes but in
no way is he a partner in actually determining the onset of
the impurity. This impurity is inherent according to the
halachic status of the case. Not so with tzora'as,
where the very onset of the impurity rests solely in the
decision and pronouncement of the Kohen.
The Kohen does not serve as a mere halachic authority
who studies the case and determines whether there is an
indication to rule impure or not. Surely this is also true,
but in addition to his being the halachic determinant and
authority in the case, he also imposes the state of impurity
by his very utterance!
In other words, even if the leper is himself a learned
scholar of note who would not otherwise require approaching
some other authority and clarifying whether the condition was
impure or not, nonetheless his lesion does not become impure
(or cause impurity through contact etc.) until the
Kohen himself decides and determines that this is
"And the one who owns the house shall come and tell the
Kohen, saying: Such a lesion appeared to me in my
house, and the Kohen shall order that the house be
cleared before the Kohen comes to see the lesion so
that all that is in the house shall not become impure, and
afterwards, the Kohen shall be brought to see the
house" (Vayikra 14:35-36). Rashi explains: "Before the
Kohen comes -- for so long as the Kohen has not
made his pronouncement, there is no prevalent state of
"And all that is in the house shall not become impure --
because if he does not empty out the house and the
Kohen comes to inspect the lesion, in the event that
he does pronounce it impure, he will cause it to be
quarantined, and all of its contents will become impure."
Why is this form of impurity so different from all others?
The Maggid of Dubnow explained it as follows:
The one who sinned with his tongue arrived at this state
because he ruled a leniency for himself as if to say that he
had not done anything wrong. "All I did was utter a few
words!" He thinks this to himself and persists in gossip
mongering. He is not willing to admit that with the mere
utterances of his mouth he is capable of separating between
man and wife, causing dissension between neighbors, bringing
about the dismissal of a worker who may have to support a
large family, or even bring about death and murder. A mere
`innocent, harmless' sentence or two . . . But the results
can bring disaster in their wake and even change the very
face of history.
When the sinner internalizes in his heart the vast impact of
speech and the destructive power inherent in the utterance of
the tongue, he will find it easier to refrain from forbidden
speech. When he understands that his tongue has the power of
a double-edged [literally, a double-lipped] sword, he will
guard it, just as he would guard a sharp knife in his hand
against harming someone coming towards him. The leper
receives this important message by means of the way in which
he is declared impure: with a word or two, the Kohen
pronounces his impurity and he has already entered the state.
His entire fate depends upon the utterance issuing from the
mouth of the Kohen. A word or two determines
everything. In this manner, the metzora learns to what
extend speech is important, how powerful it can be and what
it can effect.
In this way, he will come to avoid future sins regarding
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