This parsha, portion, Metzora, the one who suffers tzara’at, skin afflictions, is a difficult parsha for me. I needed to find a meaningful approach to the rules of separation from the community by those with skin afflictions, usually translated as leprosy. I started to try to find a hidden meaning in the rules of separation, as if being told to go to your room. Last week’s parsha, Tzara’at, dealt with the punishment by banishment from the community for committing sins, primarily of releases of body fluids that are improper or impure and the reintegration of the person into the community. This week’s parsha continues with this theme by looking at the person who engages in Loshan hora, speaking ill of others, especially when they are not present: in other words, gossip. The Torah takes gossip very seriously and the Talmud teaches that to slander or embarrass someone in public is similar to shedding blood, thereby requiring a strong punishment: separation from the community.
This separation causes the person to be seen not only as removed from the community but also separated from G-d. Being separated from the community brings healing and purification and begs the person who has spoken ill to contemplate the effects of their action and to work toward change. Similar to going on a silent retreat, the person finds him or herself and G-d in the silence and separation.
Our speech is one way we separate ourselves form G-d and from others. Speaking ill of someone, or simply wasting time talking about others rather than focusing on meaningful speech, or ‘right speech,’ causes a gulf to widen between us and G-d, our community, and ultimately, our true selves.
We are currently in preparation for celebrating our freedom and I offer as this kavannah, or intention, to dive into the process by freeing yourself of the chains of gossip and hurtful speech. Let each of us assess how far we have placed ourselves from G-d, community and self through our speech and let us use the sense of separation as the impetus to bring us closer to one another, to G-d, and to our true fundamental selves.