As I listened to that tape over and over one day this past week (while driving my older son to a distant dental procedure), I could not help thinking how appropriately the trains have described the pernicious slander coming out of the mouths of so many European leaders (and others like Kofi Annan) regarding Israel's recent military action. Disgusting! Disgraceful! Despicable!
And their corruptly one-sided condemnation of Israel has not been without effect, nor have their vicious words fallen on deaf ears. Without a doubt, they have helped encourage, or at least created the a-moral climate for, atrocious acts of thuggery and criminality against Jews in France, Germany and even the United States. (The Wall Street Journal properly castigated the French government in particular for self-righteously stoking up indignation against Israel, while feebly declaring their inability to protect French Jewry against violence.)
I'm not sure our noble little trains can make themselves heard above the din of exploding "martyrs" and their "civilized" apologists in this twisted world, but there have to be some voices of moral sanity raised in protest nonetheless: Disgusting! Disgraceful! Despicable!
It is surely not coincidental that this week's pair of Torah portions highlight the catastrophic effects of slander and loshon ha'ra on civilized society. Together, they extensively detail the halachos (laws) of tzara'as, a bodily condition that anyone can see bears no resemblance to "leprosy," though it is often misleadingly translated that way. Nor does it resemble any dermatological condition you'll find in your Merck Manual. It was a physical affliction caused by a spiritual sickness. (Which is precisely why a person so afflicted in ancient Israel went to a Kohen, the spiritual guide and teacher of the Jewish people, and not to some Doctor Cohen or other, expert in physiological matters.)
What moral failings brought on these unsightly blemishes? Several sins are listed as culprits in the Talmud, all of which display a common deficiency in proper interpersonal relations. Among them--and the one most often associated with tzara'as in the rabbinical literature--is Diesel's devious deed itself: slander.
R. Samuel bar Nahmani said in the name of R. Johanan: Because of seven things the plague of leprosy is incurred: [These are:] slander, the shedding of blood, vain oath, incest, arrogance, robbery and envy. (Babylonian Talmud: Arakhin 16a; my emphasis)As Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch points out, these seven sins are the very ones mentioned in Proverbs 6, 16, and notice which one is singled out for special ignominy:
A false witness who speaks lies, and he who sows discord among brothers [through evil speech and slander]."Quite often, Hirsch goes on to explain, spreading slander "does bring about the spiritual death of respect and love even between brothers and sisters," and combines "in its consequences all the [six] other imperfections and sins" mentioned in Proverbs and the Talmud along with it. Evil speech, in short, is a root cause of a myriad of other evils--the precise reason the great 20th century leader, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan (the "Chofetz Chayim"), laid such great emphasis on striving to eradicate it among the Jewish people. It caused the destruction of our Second Temple, our Sages tell us. And it continues to cause violence to this very day.
Why don't we see French politicians today stricken with tzara'as on their bodies? (Or at least the kefiyas of Arab leaders, or the walls of the Vatican...for tzara'as also could appear on clothes and houses?) It would be a satisfying sight for many of us...though admittedly the hierarchy of the Catholic Church has plenty to squirm about of late without such heavenly afflictions.
The simple answer is that while slander certainly causes a serious blemish on the soul of its speaker, wherever or whenever he perpetrates his crime, the physical manifestation known as tzara'as was limited to the Jewish people in the Land of Israel, when the Temple stood. In those days, we were on such a high spiritual level that our bodies would register the effects of the most pernicious sins, such as slander. As the great commentator, Ramban (Nachmanidies), writes:
"This [tzara'as] is not in the natural order of things, nor does it ever happen in the world [outside Israel], and similarly tzara'as of houses [is not a natural phenomenon]. But when Israel is wholly devoted to G-d, then His spirit is upon them always, to maintain their bodies, clothes and houses in a good appearance. Thus as soon as one of them commits a sin or transgression, a deformity appears in his flesh, or on his garment, or in his house, revealing that G-d has turned aside from him." (Commentary on the Torah: III, p. 183; Chavel translation.)
It was actually a sign of our closeness to G-d that He visited such a strange affliction on us at times. Being the Chosen People (living in the Holy Land) inevitably meant that our behavior was--and is--scrutinized to a greater degree than that of other peoples. Arafat may deserve it (and far worse), but we are not likely to see any tzara'as patch on his arm or head.
"And the person with tzara'as in whom there is the affliction-his garments shall be torn, the hair of his head shall be unshorn, and he shall cloak himself up to his lips; he is to call out: 'Impure, Impure!' All the days that the affliction is upon him he shall remain impure; he is impure. He shall dwell in isolation; his dwelling shall be outside the camp." (13, 45-46) On second thought, all the international attention the craven Arafat has gotten in his confinement (including the nauseating ministrations of so-called "peace activists" from around the world, with turncoat Jews among them) does not meet the Torah's requirement for the slanderer's isolation. We'll just have to wait for the Almighty to settle accounts in His own time...and He most definitely will, with or without the help of the IDF. (And despite what CNN has to say about it.)
In the meantime, we all need to pray...and to come together as Jews in brotherhood, whatever our differences. At the day school in Savannah (and at yeshivas around the country), they screened a film yesterday of students in Israel as they have tried to cope with the crisis of recent weeks. It was very inspiring (and tear-jerking) to see young boys and girls deliver a message to us in the U.S.: "Pray harder, study the laws of loshon ha'ra--evil speech--every day, send letters to us here, put your trust in the Holy One, Blessed be He." Those are all good bits of advice on how we can deal with the crisis we're facing.
Evil speech/slander is one of the worst disturbers of the peace in our societies, and in our lives. The Holy One, Blessed be He, loves shalom and hates those who disturb it (especially if they lie in the process as well). What does He think of those who spread evil with their tongues? "Disgusting! Disgraceful! Despicable!"
May we learn the lesson of the parshas, and strengthen ourselves in eradicating evil speech from among us. And in that merit, may Hashem rid the world of evil and destructive speech against the Jewish people...and the righteous of all nations...and bring true and lasting shalom that all mankind can enjoy.
My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Rabbi Yosef Edelstein, Savannah Kollel. Phone: 355-0157; fax: 354-9923
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