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Parshas Tazriah speaks about the symptoms of tzara’as (leprosy), and the laws pertaining to one afflicted by it. One of the reasons for Tzara’as was as a punishment for speaking Lashon Horah (slander).

The Torah connects this topic to the topic which speaks about permitted and forbidden animals to teach us a very significant lesson: not only must we watch what comes into our mouths, we must also be careful with what leaves our mouths.

How many people shudder at the mere thought of eating pork, yet give no second thought to sharing a juicy bit of gossip? In fact, eating a kezayis (measurement the size of an olive) of pork causes one to transgress one commandment, while speaking one word of Lashon Horah causes one to transgress up to 37 commandments!

In the times of the Bais Hamikdash, if someone spoke Lashon Horah they were immediately afflicted with a full blown case of tzara’as. (Tzara’as also came as a punishment to other sins, but in the case of other sins it appeared gradually.)

Tzara’as is not a merely physical affliction, as many tend to think. It is rooted in the spiritual. The Kli Yakar explains that the word metzorah (leper) comes from the words motzi rah - it brings out the bad. Tzara’as exposes the sins of the one afflicted by it.

When the possuk speaks about tzara’as, it uses a double wording - "Adam ki yihiyeh b’ohr b’saro s’eis oh sapachas oh baheres, v’hayah b’ohr b’saro l’negah tzara’as"(Vayikra 13:2) - If a person will have on the skin of his flesh a s’eis or a sapachas or a baheres (types of afflictions), and it will become a tzara’as affliction.

The Kli Yakar explain this double wording to mean that on a regular person this affliction would be able to be cured easily through physical measures (such as a cream or medicine), but since they are found on the skin of one who sinned, they become the spiritually rooted affliction of tzara’as.

Since the Torah is speaking of a spiritually rooted disease, the cure that it prescribes is a spiritual cure. The person is brought to a Kohein (priest) and if it is indeed this type of tzara’as, the Kohein declares him impure. Even if he is a learned man and recognizes by himself that he has tzara’as, he still must get it diagnosed by a Kohein. For only the Kohein can declare him impure. He must rend his clothing and let his hair grow in the manner of mourners, and call out "Tamei, tamei" - contaminated, contaminated. This will make people aware of the fact that he is a metzora, and they will know to avoid him. It will also influence him to repent. He is required to live in isolation all the days of his affliction. Rashi explains that this is a fitting punishment - through his slander he caused strife and separation, so now he is to remain isolated. Next week’s parsha, Parshas Metzora, discuses what he is to do when he is cured.

Through seeing the severity of the punishment of one who speaks Lashon Horah, we can infer something about the great reward of one who stays away from Lashon Horah, since we know that the midah tovah (the measure with which Hashem repays those who do His will) is many more times greater that the midah ra’ah (the measure with which Hashem punishes those who don’t do His will). If this is the harsh punishment of one who speaks Lashon Horah, imagine the great reward bestowed upon one who watches his speech! And indeed, "Kol regah v’regah she’adam chosem piv, zocheh l’ohr ha’ganuz she’ain kol malach u’varyah yachol le’sha’er" (Vilna Ga’on from Midrash)- For every moment that a person remains silent, he merits reward that is beyond the comprehension of angels! May we all strive to merit this eternal good.

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