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Rabbi Jon’s Reflection on This Week’s Torah Portion

4.12.2024

Tazria 2024: STOP GOSSIPING OR YOU’LL GET A RASH

A short reflection on Tazria (Leviticus 12:1 - 13:59) 

This week’s Torah portion, Tazria, purports to be about post-birth purification rituals and skin diseases. In actuality, the section about skin diseases is a treatise on gossip. Our tradition teaches that speaking evilly about others brings on a rash called tza’ra’at. In other words, if you gossip, you’re going to develop a physical manifestation for all to see. I can imagine the Israelites whispering amongst themselves, “Did you see Avram’s skin? He was gossiping!”

Our Torah was aware that speaking untrue words deserved both a punishment and a remedy. The punishment was inflicted by God in the form of the aforementioned rash. The remedy included temporary expulsion from the community until the rash disappeared. What if every time we used speech in a malicious way we had to separate ourselves from the community?  Would the time to reflect aid us in learning to be better people?  Who hasn’t needed a “time out” after doing something wrong? 

Our tradition mandates this “time out” so that we can reflect on our words in order to do better in the future. Without time to reflect, we will continue to make the same mistakes.  Whether we get wrinkles or rashes or our eyes twitch, our bodies hint at the state of our interiority. We often see the effects of our lives and our words playing out in the physical world. Sometimes, we need to stop and to reflect so that we can allow our bodies and our ethics to reset. 

Our tradition teaches many lessons about gossiping – lashon harah in Hebrew – and I have delivered a number of sermons on this topic. On more occasions that I can count, I have taught that gossiping hurts three people – the listener, the speaker and the person being spoken about. I have sermonized on the concept of a Complaint Free World as envisioned by Reverend Will Bowen, and I have given out his Complaint Free World bracelets. Again and again, I have spoken about the need to watch our words. But, I’ve never suggested to remain silent. Ben Sira, a great Jewish scholar, wrote, “Have you heard something about someone? Let it die with you. Be of good courage, it will not harm you if it ends with you (Ben Sira 19:10).” After reading this comment, I realized that the best lesson is to remain silent when your instinct is to gossip. Gossip will never disappear from our world, but we can limit it by realizing that we have the power to end a continuation of words that have the power to hurt others. 

The next time you cannot escape from hearing gossip, remember that you can stop its spread by allowing it to die with you… and you can also avoid a rash!

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TAZRIA SUMMARY FROM THE URJ

  • God describes the rituals of purification for a woman after childbirth. (12:1-8)

  • God sets forth the methods for diagnosing and treating a variety of skin diseases, including tzara-at (a leprous affection), as well as those for purifying clothing. (13:1-59)

For more information on this Torah portion go to: https://reformjudaism.org/torah/portion/tazria

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Previous Torah Talks

Fri, April 12 2024 4 Nisan 5784