Tazria/Metzora – Triggering the Center

The bulk of this week’s double portion of Tazria and Metzora discusses the concept of tzaraas, spiritual leprosy. The most famous reason one gets tzaraas is for speaking lashon hara, slander. And one of the main reasons one speaks slander is because of gaava, haughtiness, thinking he or she is better than someone else. 
The Chofetz Chaim in his Sefer Shmiras Halashon, chapter 16, remarks regarding one who discovers tzaraas on his body, “furthermore it writes in the Torah (Vayikra 13:45), ‘his clothes shall be ripped and his head unkempt (grown out)’. It’s possible the reason for this is because the main reason for the sin of the tongue stems from haughtiness, that he thinks himself as an important person among people, therefore he decides to degrade his friend. If one would recognize his own fallacies, he would not seek out the blemishes of his friend. The proof to this is that the Torah writes by the purification process of a Metzora, he shall take cedar wood, hyssop, and crimson thread (see Vayikra 14:4). Rashi explains there that if one is haughty like a cedar then he should belittle himself like a worm or a hyssop, and then he would be atoned for. Therefore, the pasuk says that his clothes shall be ripped and his hair on his head grown out in order for him to be disgusting, so that he will look degraded by all and then he won’t speak haughtily about others.”

 Later in the chapter the Chofetz Chaim writes, “’And he shall cloak himself up to his lips’ (Vayikra 13:45). This is because he definitely said to himself originally, ‘Because of our tongues we shall prevail, our lips are with us’ (Tehillim 12:5), therefore Hashem commanded us that at this point one should be cloaked up to his lips. [The end of the earlier pasuk in Tazria says,] ‘he (the afflicted metzora) is to call out, contaminated! contaminated!’ (Vayikra 13:45). He is to make sure that everyone hears he is contaminated and separate from him. For in place of originally revealing the embarrassment of his friend in front of people, now he has to reveal his own embarrassment in front of people.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
 The Chofetz Chaim depicts to what extent, from one end of the spectrum to the other, a person who speaks lashon hara is punished and must go in order to repent and change his wrongful ways. However, if you look at the Rashi itself earlier quoted from parshas Metzora, he says “and cedar wood” because these afflictions come because of haughtiness. “And “crimson thread and hyssop,” what is the way to fix it and be healed? Belittle himself from his haughtiness, like a worm and hyssop. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
 The Gur Aryeh, which is the Mahara”l’s commentary on Rashi, asks a blaring and really good question on this pasuk: “Why does two things have to be mentioned that he should humble himself like (1) hyssop and like (2) crimson thread, isn’t the most belittling one all that is needed? You can answer that definitely at first one should belittle himself like a worm who is very lowly, in order to distance himself from sin. For originally, he sinned in haughtiness and if he does not separate himself to the opposite extreme, to grab on to the attribute of lowliness very very low, then his sin will not leave his hands because he will go back to his haughtiness therefore one has to lower himself like a worm until he is distanced from the sin and his heart should not feel inflated. But afterwards he should be like a hyssop, and one does not have to belittle himself as low as a worm. This is why the pasuk first mentions crimson thread and then hyssop, because too much lowliness is not befitting because every good attribute has a middle ground, and the two extremes are not good. In this manner the Rambam explains in his introduction to Pirkei Avos, that one who sins with haughtiness, when he fixes his ways, he has to grab onto the most extreme way to lower himself until he removes the disgusting attribute he has [of haughtiness] and then he should stand by humility. This is also a form of lowliness but not as much.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
 According to the Gur Aryeh, the reason for a person who has tzaraas has to bring both crimson thread (the thread represents the worm. In fact tolaas, the Hebrew word used in the pasuk means thread and worm) and hyssop, were in order to send a message that he should go to the opposite extreme from haughtiness, and then go back to the middle of regular humility once he gets rid of his haughtiness. What is interesting to note is that to go to the opposite extreme one goes through many actions, for example bringing the crimson thread as part of his sacrifice, clothing himself up to his lips, letting his hair grow out and become disheveled, calling to everyone ‘contaminated, contaminated’ so people will stay away from him, and separating himself from everyone for a week. However, in terms of going back to the middle ground, all there is, is a trigger or reminder, i.e., the hyssop, to indicate that that is the ultimate goal. Wouldn’t one think that logically finding the middle ground would be harder than going to the opposite extreme and therefore would take more action to figure out how to do that?

However, though it might be harder, all that is needed is an intellectual push, using one’s mind to figure out the equilibrium; not much extra actions must be taken to find that perfect balance, and then he automatically acts in that perfect balance. However, one could ask why is it right to go to the opposite extreme first, if the Gur Aryeh says it’s not good to do?
 The Orchos Tzadikim in a similar vein at the end of the Gate of Gaavah remarks: “He who desires to root out haughtiness from his heart completely cannot do this by thought alone but must at first depart from arrogance to its furthest extremity. How? A man who was accustomed to dressing himself in the finest garments such as the haughtiest people wear and wants to turn from this ostentation must overcorrect his defect. If he should wear ordinary clothes in an attempt to correct his fault, he will not eradicate his haughtiness from his heart. Or if his custom was to boast and to exalt himself to win honor by words or deeds. There is no means of correcting this unless he goes to the other extreme and conducts himself with the greatest humiliation, sitting below everyone or far to the rear, and wears worn and shabby clothes that disgrace their wearer, and does similar things until he roots out his haughtiness to heart. The same is true of a man with a hot temper who is angry often. At first, he should conduct himself so that even if they beat him and curse him, he should not feel it at all. He must continue in this manner for a long time until he roots out the very roots of anger from his heart. When he has achieved this, he can then take the middle road and follow it all his life. One should follow this procedure with all evil qualities. At first one should withdraw to the furthest extreme and act thusly for a long time. Afterwards he should take the middle road. And this method of procedure is a complete healing in connection with all evil qualities. And he whose intention continually is to serve the Creator Blessed be He, with every part of himself and in the best manner, will place this path before himself and before his companion. And concerning this it is said: ‘And to him that order his way aright will I show the salvation of God.’ (Tehillim 50:23).” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

Earlier in the chapter the Orchos Tzadikim describes the ideal median: “The proper way for man is to be clean in all matters, for cleanliness is the fence that guards good deeds. How shall he conduct himself? He should wear garments of moderate worth (elegantly conservative, as my Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Henoch Leibowitz zt”l used to say), and not expensive and splendid clothes that invite everyone’s attention. Nor shall he wear poor or shabby garments that shame the wearer, but garments of moderate worth, lovely and clean, according to his means. And it is forbidden that a spot or a stain be found on his garments. They should not be torn and they shall not be styled as the haughty sometimes do…”
Based on the Orchos Tzadikim, going to the opposite extreme isn’t ideal, but is a needed boost to get one on the right track, there are stages that must be taken to get to the right place. However, according to the Gur Aryeh, going to both extremes are not good; how then can it help to get one on the right track? It would seem that doing a not good thing can temporarily be useful and even more useful than trying to find the perfect median from the start. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
 We learn from here an incredible lesson, that what is not good can still be resourceful. We can’t always go straight to what is good to fix a situation. One must first take steps in doing what is not good but with the intent to clean the wrong that was done before settling into what is the ideal, right thing to do.

Sefer Chofetz Chaim Perek 2, Halacha 2, Note 2

The answer to Tosfos’ view on apei tlasa is that straight out negative lashon hara is forbidden to be said whether in front of 3 or more people or even to the antagonist’s straight up lashon hara is forbidden, also to listen and accept as true. However the leniency is in a case where the statement could be taken in two ways, positive or negative. The key to the leniency is if you don’t feel embarrassed at all to be willing to say it to his face then you may say it to him or her or even in front of 3 people since it will definitely get back to the person being talked about. However if you feel any embarrassment to say it or if your expressions, voice, physical, etc is of a negative connotation it should not be said.

Chapter 2 Halacha 1 (part 1)

This chapter talks about the concept of “apei tilasa” which literally means “in front of 3” this refers to an ambiguous leniency in the laws of lashon hara. It is based on a Gemara in Bava Basra 39a, in the name of Rabba bar Rav Huna who says that anything said in front of 3 people is not considered lashon hara. The Chofetz Chaim makes it very clear that the bigger the crown the worse the lashon hara is. He proves it through logic and sources in the Sifri and other gemaras.

The Chofetz Chaim spends a lot of time elaborating on explaining what the Gemara in Bava Basra is talking about, going through all the Rishonim in order so that no one will be mistakenly think that it is straight out permissible to talk lashon hara in front of 3 people with no strings attached.

He starts with the Rashbam who says that it is certainly prohibited to say anything bad about anyone in front of 3 but once it was said any one of the 3 can repeat it to the one it was talked about because since it was said in front of 3 it is definite that it will get back to him anyway. I had a question why it would be permitted to tell the guy talked about since we learned that reinforcing what he already know is still bad like rubbing salt on an open wound?

Tosfos on 39b sounds like he is saying that even the one speaking the lashon hara is permitted in front of at least 3 because since word spreads n that dynamic it is like he said it to his face. The Chofetz Chaim had a lot of difficulty understanding what this means since you certainly can’t lie, that is motzie Shem ra, and even the truth, if said to his face is forbidden and a person who causes a public embarrassment has no share in the World to Come! Just calling him names has the same issue and even if we say if a guy is insulted he is allowed to insult back, so if he hears what the speaker said and told 3 people a response so they can now report it back to the speaker. That also doesn’t work because one can only respond to being insulted in public and to the guys face at the moment of insult and this is after the fact even if his response is considered to the insulter’s face, it is still lashon hara because the timing is off. So we are left with not understanding what Tosfos is saying and when exactly does the leniency of apei tlasa apply, to be continued…

Chapter 1 Halachos 1-3

Chapter 1 end of halacha 1 – 3

End of halacha 1: There is a discussion amongst the Rishonim whether lashon hara and rechilus are all part of one verse of לא תלך רכיל בעמיך or is rechilus (tattletale) is worse than lashon hara (slander) and lashon hara is learned from לא תשא שמה שוא and although we should not need a verse for rechilus because we can learn it out from a Kal vachomer (fortiori) from lashon hara however the Torah goes out of its way to have a separate verse for rechilus in order so that the court can give lashes to one who falsely slanders someone else. Another ramification of the extra verse “Don’t walk as a tale bearer amongst your people” is that the prohibition starts even before one actually speaks lashon hara rather when he is walking to do the sin it starts. 
Halacha 2: A reminder that other prohibitions like revenge,hating someone in one’s heart etc. can be transgressed while speaking lashon hara. 
Halacha 3: A person who habitually speaks lashon hara is in a whole new realm called a “baal lashon hara” he or she goes around collecting info about people and then sits around with a crowd talking slander every day. This type of person is viewed as someone who spites Hashem and his Torah because he doesn’t just sin every once in a while but premeditatedly sins every day by creating groups of shmuzzers to speak loshon hara and rechilus.

Chapter 1 Halacha 1

Today we started delving into the actual laws of loshon hara.

Chapter 1, halacha 1:

 (A) Lashon hara is slander about a fellow Jew even if it is the absolute truth. The Chofetz Chaim elaborates in his Be’er Mayim Chaim on 3 gemaras that prove lashon hara is even on truth. 

(1) Moed Katan 16a: The gemara there proves from the report that Moshe Rabbeinu’s messenger sent back of Dasan and Aviram that only a messenger of the court is allowed to speak slander which is true to the judges because there is some benefit for the court, implying in general a person cannot speak slander even if it is true. 

 (2) Sotah 42a: There are Four types of people who the Shechina will not go near, two of them are habitual liars and those who habitually speak lashon hara. If lashon hara is only when one falsely slanders another then it would be the same category as liars and we would not need both categories therefore it must be that speaking lashon hara is even a problem when speaking the truth. 

(3) Bava Basra 164b: Rebbe’s son brought a document which had a mistake on it. Rebbe wasn’t so happy, Rebbe’s son, Rebbe Shimon said Rebbe Yehuda the… wrote it. Rebbe scolded his son for telling him who wrote, he should have just said I did not write it. We see from this case that even though Rebbe Shimon was just telling truth it was still lashon hara and forbidden. Instead he should of stayed quiet or just give a deflecting response like “I didn’t do it.” Because there was no benefit to anyone for being an informant. 

Another example I gave was if a grocery store has some old, not so fresh food with bad expiration dates. You can’t tell someone don’t shop there because of a number of reasons: A. Maybe he wants other stuff, B. maybe he doesn’t care but if you say something you just make things worse. C. If it’s a known thing you are just stoking the coals. D. He can figure out himself if he wants to shop there or not. 

Lastly we discussed that even a change of one word from the truth could change what you say from lashon hara to what’s called motzie shem ra which is worse than lashon hara because the lie you say about someone could make them look even worse and amplifies the sin of slander. If a mixture of truth and lies can switch lashon hara into motzie shem ra certainly a complete lie is in that category and all the more severe!  

Prohibitions 16-17

#16: “לא תחניפו את הארץ” This is a prohibition against flattery. It could apply to both the speaker and listener.
People who speak loshon hara might do it to find favor and flatter the listener. The person listening flatters the one who speaks loshon hara if he nodded his head in acquiescence or added a few words that adds to the slander. This sin’s severity causes Hashem’s Holy Presence to leave the Jews and it was one of the causes of the exile after the Second Temple was destroyed when the Sages flattered King Agripus.

#17 ״לא תקלל חרש״ A prohibition against cursing your fellow even if he is deaf or not present and all the more so if he can hear you curse him. Though this is not a part of lashon hara but many times when one gets angry and starts speaking lashon hara it leads to cursing the one he is speaking about.