Over the years, I have heard many approaches to this week’s Torah portion, Metzora, which focuses on how to deal with “skin affections,” usually identified as leprosy (Hansen’s disease) on people. There is a section that deals with “growths” that appear in homes as well. The goal of this section was not to promote health as much as it was to ensure ritual and spiritual purity. The Torah specifies how someone who had a particular disease was to be quarantined and how that person could again become part of the community as they became whole again.
All of us may have had experiences, not necessarily illnesses, that have made us feel isolated from a community. There are always paths of healing and return available to us. Sometimes we need time to think about our place in the web of relationships in our lives, and what may be required to return to communal life may be a change in attitude, on our part or someone else’s. Rabbinic commentaries chose to discuss this section of the Torah by “playing” with the word for leprosy, metzora, and turning it into “Motzi sheim ra,” meaning someone who spreads “evil talk” or speaks evil about someone, thus defaming their “sheim,” name. They believed that pure, positive and truthful speech was essential to sustaining a productive and sacred community. They cautioned that only listening to gossip or slander, even without repeating it, could compromise the integrity of a community.
We live in a world where words can spread at the click of a button to thousands of people. May we always strive to seek purity inside ourselves and in the words the emerge from our lips.