TAZRIA, The price for a free speech!
There was a fourteen year old schoolgirl by the name of Hannah Smith.
She was Bright and outgoing, she enjoyed an active social life and seemed to have an exciting future ahead of her.
On the morning of 2 August 2013 Hannah was found hanged in her bedroom. She had committed suicide.
Seeking to understand what had happened, her family soon discovered that she had been the target of anonymous abusive posts on a social network website.
Hannah was a victim of the latest variant of the oldest story in human history: the use of words as weapons by those seeking to inflict pain.
The new version is called cyber-bullying.
The Jewish phrase for this kind of behaviour is lashon hara,
speech about people that is negative,
It means, quite simply, speaking badly about people,
the sages regarded it as one of the worst of all sins.
They said, astonishingly, that it is as bad as the three cardinal sins:
idolatry, murder and incest
The 3 combined.
More significantly in the context of Hannah Smith they said
it kills three people,
the one who says it,
the one he says it about,
and the one who listens in.
The connection with this week’s parsha is straightforward.
Tazria, is about a condition called:
sometimes translated as Leprosy!
The commentators asked themselves:
what is this condition ?
why it should be given such prominence in the torah?
They concluded that it was precisely because it was a punishment for
lashon hara, derogatory speech.
We can find many evidences in the Torah recording punishment with leprosis, it would be too Long now to enumerate all those evidences!
Why is the Torah so severe about lashon hara,?
branding it, as one of the worst of sins?
Partly this has deep roots in the Jewish understanding of G-d
and the human condition.
Judaism is less a religion of holy people and holy places than
it is a religion of holy words.
G-d created the universe by words:
“And G-d said, Let there be … and there was.”
G-d reveals himself in words.
He spoke to the patriarchs and the prophets and at Mount Sinai to the whole nation.
Our very humanity has to do with our ability to use language.
Language is life.
Words are creative but also destructive.
One sign of how seriously Judaism takes this is the prayer we say at the beginning and at the end of every Amidah, at least three times a day:
“Open my lips so that my mouth may declare Your praise,”
“My G-d, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from deceitful speech."
lashon hara remained a problem throughout Jewish history and still does today.
Every leader is subject to it.
Anyone from CEO to parent to Friend who seeks to be a leader has to confront the issue of lashon hara.
Some people are envious.
They build themselves up by putting other people down.
Evil speech generates negative energies.
Cyber-bullying is the latest manifestation of lashon hara.
In general the Internet is the most effective distributor of hate-speech ever invented,
it bypasses the face-to-face ,
encounter that can sometimes
The story of Hannah Smith and the other teenage suicides is a tragic reminder of how right the sages were to reject the idea that
" words can never harm me,”
and insist to the contrary that
evil speech kills.
Free speech is not speech that costs nothing.
It is speech that respects the freedom and dignity of others.
Forget this and free speech becomes very expensive indeed.
All of which helps us to understand the biblical idea of tsara’at.
People engage in lashon hara because they think they can get away with it.
“It wasn’t me. I never said it. I didn’t mean it. I was misunderstood.”
To put it at its simplest: as we behave to others so G-d behaves to us.
Do not expect G-d to be kind to those who are unkind to their fellow humans.