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April 13, 2024: Parashah Torah Portion Tazria

This week’s Parashah Torah Portion Tazria is taken from Leviticus 12:1-13:59. Join Dr. Jeffery Myers, as he details the Laws and consequences of “tzara’at” (Leprosy), and how this is not only a bodily disease but that it is the physical manifestation of a spiritual sin, primarily Slander (lashon hara)!


Follow along in the AUDIO PODCAST, by clicking on the play button below, and reading along with the notes, as you listen to today's Torah Portion:

Parashah Torah Portion Tazria is taken from Leviticus 12:1-13:59

Lion of Judah Speaks: Parashah Torah Portion Tazria - Leviticus 12:1-13:59:


For hundreds of years the popular translation of “tzaraas” has been “leprosy.”  It was commonly accepted that the prevention of the disease spreading was the reason for the quarantine of a suspected victim of the “tzara’at” and exclusion from the camp.  However, if we look a little closer, we see the symptoms of “tzara’at” are far different from those of leprosy.  If the reason for the confinement is to prevent contagion, then some of the laws don’t make sense.

 

Without going into the technical and dissection of those laws – the sages teach that “tzara’at” is not a bodily disease but the physical manifestation of a spiritual sin that is designed to show the person that they must mend their ways.  The primary cause of “tzara’at” is slander!  The use of words as weapons by those seeking to inflict pain.  Slander (lashon hara) is evil speech.  Speech about people that is negative and derogatory.  Speaking badly about people and spreading gossip.

 

Sages believe it is one of the worst of all sins.  They believe it is as bad as the 3 cardinal sins: idolatry, murder, and incest.  They believe it kills three people:  the one who says it; the one he says it about; the one who listens.

 

The reason why “tzara’at” is given so much time or prominence in the Torah is because it was a punishment for lashon hara; derogatory speech.  We see it in Numbers 12:1, when Miriam spoke against her brother Moshe, “because of the Ethiopian wife he had taken.”  Elohim felt bound to defend Moshe’s honor and as a punishment He turned Miriam leprous.

 

Moshe prayed for her healing, and Elohim mitigated the punishment for 7 days, but did not annul it entirely.  This wasn’t a minor matter because Moshe points it out among the teachings, he gives the next generation in Deut. 24:8-9.  Even Moshe was briefly guilty of the same offence in Exodus 4:1-9 when Elohim gave Moshe 3 signs:  water turned to blood; staff became a snake; hand briefly turning leprous.  Later we see in the narrative that water turned into blood; staff became a snake; but no reference to a hand becoming leprous.

 

We are being alerted to the nuances of the biblical text and seeing that the hand that turned leprous was not a sign but a punishment…Moshe being reprimanded for “casting doubts against the innocent” by saying that they would not believe in him.

 

Lashon hara is dangerous!  Look at Joseph’s life and his brothers as Genesis 37:2 says “he brought an evil report to his father about his brothers.”  This was not the only provocation that led his brothers to plot to kill him and eventually sell him as a slave but his derogatory gossip did not endear him to his siblings!  Look at the “evil report” in Numbers 13:32, it is the same word in Genesis 37:2,  and although Moshe prayed for forgiveness the entry was delayed almost 40 years and condemned a whole generation to die in the wilderness.

 

Why is Torah so severe about lashon hara?  There is a deep root in the Hebraic understanding of Elohim and the human condition.  Biblical Judaism is less a religion of holy people and holy places than it is a religion of holy words.  Elohim created the universe by holy words!  He reveals Himself in words.  Our humanity has to do with our ability to use language.  Genesis 2:7 says, “…became a living being or as the Targum renders the phrase, “and the man became a speaking being.”

 

Language is life!  Words are creative but also destructive.  If good words are holy then evil words are a desecration.  Death and life are in the power of the tongue according to the Word of Elohim.  So serious that at the end of every Amidah (3 times a day) we say, “My Elohim, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from deceitful speech.   To those who curse me let my soul be silent; may my soul be to all like the dust.”  Having prayed in the beginning to “open my lips so that my mouth may declare Your praise…we pray at the end to close our lips so we don’t speak badly about others or react when others speak badly about us.

 

Despite everything, despite all the teaching on the prohibition of gossip, despite all the stories, Joseph, Moshe, Miriam, and the spies lashon hara has remained a problem in our lives and throughout history.  All of us must confront the issue of lashon hara.  Sometimes this is the price of any achievement because people are envious, people gossip, people build themselves up by putting people down.  As a leader or leaders, we will have to deal with the fact people talk behind your back and before your face.  People will be critical, malicious, disdainful, and sometimes down right dishonest.  Yes…it can be hard to bear, and if you are very sensitive it can be quite draining!

 

As a “community lashon hara” is so dangerous because it eventually will destroy the integrity of the group.  Evil speech generates negative energies and sow’s seeds of distrust and envy.  Evil speech directed outside the community can lead to arrogance, self-righteousness, racism and prejudice which are fatal to the moral credibility of any team. 

 

We must stop it and make it clear politely that in this new year it will not be a part of our lives.  No place in our conversations! We must remember evil speech kills.  Free speech is not speech that costs nothing…it can become very expensive.

 

This is why all the commands on “tzara’at” and why we need to understand the biblical understanding of what it is!  People engage in lashon hara because they think they can get away with it. The Torah in Leviticus 13:45-46 is telling us that the lashon hara uttered in private is to be stigmatized in public and those who engage in it are to be openly shamed.  Let me put it in a simple truth…As we behave to others so Elohim behaves to us.  Elohim doesn’t want to humiliate us but wants us to repent and be shown mercy.  The reason why Elohim wants the person to conduct himself in a distinctive manner is so that people will know to avoid him; so, he dresses and acts like a mourner and this is to influence him to grieve and repent the behavior that brought the punishment.  He was to cloak himself and was forbidden to greet people but was permitted to study and discuss Torah.

 

They were to yell “contaminated, contaminated” to warn people to stay away unless they too would be contaminated.  The purpose of this proclamation is to inform others of his anguish so they will pray for him.  Leviticus 13:46 reveals that his slander causes husbands to be separated from their wives; friends from friends so the purpose is to make the sinner aware of what he did and what it has brought upon him.  Such reflection should lead to repentance!

 

Who is the solution to our problem?  Yeshua HaMashiach!  Matthew 10:7-8 says, “As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The Kingdom of heaven has come near. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.  Freely you have received; freely give.”

 

Elohim’s sanctuary is about immortality and incorruptibility.  In His presence, there is no death, no decay, and no decomposition.  So, this disease that represents a living decomposition is banned from the sanctuary because it represents what Elohim’s sanctuary is not!  Luke 17:17 shares with us about 9 lepers who just wanted a temporary result and 1 leper who wanted an eternal change.  Let’s be like the 1 who was looking for something more than a temporary fix.

 

Let’s get serious about maintaining Elohim’s holiness in our lives. Let’s not allow anything to corrupt the incorruptible and that means our speech.  Let’s dispose of lashon hara and let our speech be pleasing to Adonai.  Let’s get rid of the chametz within our lives. The time is now…don’t you think?

 

Shabbat Shalom Mishpocha,

 

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Ya’akov (James) 3:10 tells us, “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.  My brothers, these things ought not to be.”  On this Sabbath day let us decree and declare that our speech will be different.  In this new year let us make up our mind that what comes out of our mouth will only be edifying and life -giving!  Have a blessed and powerful Sabbath.  Serve Adonai with all of your being.  See you at the altar!

 

Shalom Aleichem

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