TorahScope: Tazria-Metzora

Tazria

She Conceives

Leviticus 12:1-13:59
2 Kings 4:42-5:19

Metzora

Infected One

Leviticus 14:1-15:33
2 Kings 7:3-20

“Speech Impediments”


by Mark Huey

Having just given instructions about clean and unclean meats, acceptable and unacceptable for human consumption (Leviticus 11), the Torah now turns to what is to be done after childbirth (Leviticus 12:1-8), and with various skin afflictions (Leviticus 13:1-59) and fluid emissions (Leviticus 15:1-33) that can seemingly disrupt intimate communion with the Almighty. This week’s double portion Torah reading (for 2012), which usually occurs on most non-leap years, addresses these circumstances with explicit details that have been subject to a variety of interpretations down through the centuries. While it is interesting to tally and analyze all of the different theories offered, and the practices that have been altered over the years to accommodate these commands in Jewish tradition, there is one particular view that has garnered a great deal of attention in Jewish examination. The material seen in Shemeni (Leviticus 9:1-11:47), as well as Tazria-Metzora, allows Torah readers an annual opportunity to consider the debilitating sin of lashon ha’ra or “the evil tongue.” Malicious gossip and unverified slander are things that lamentably contaminate far too many who claim to follow the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

There is debate among examiners as to whether or not the disease labeled “leprosy,” tzara’at in our Torah portion, is the actual leprosy of today. Our main point in reading the parashah should be to recognize how there would be a noticeable infection that appeared on the skin of the afflicted. The prescribed method for dealing with the disease was handled by the Levitical priesthood, in order to assure that any potential spread of the disease was minimized. Once discerned as “leprosy” by the priest, the afflicted would be isolated for extended periods of seven days, and reexamined until a declaration of being “clean” could be issued. In the lengthy description of how to contend with leprosy in Leviticus 13, it is notable that cleanliness is achievable after the infection has ended, but when the infection remains, the afflicted is required to warn others with the cry of “Unclean! Unclean!” and remain isolated outside the camp:

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, ‘When a man has on the skin of his body a swelling or a scab or a bright spot, and it becomes an infection of leprosy on the skin of his body, then he shall be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons the priests. The priest shall look at the mark on the skin of the body, and if the hair in the infection has turned white and the infection appears to be deeper than the skin of his body, it is an infection of leprosy; when the priest has looked at him, he shall pronounce him unclean. But if the bright spot is white on the skin of his body, and it does not appear to be deeper than the skin, and the hair on it has not turned white, then the priest shall isolate him who has the infection for seven days. The priest shall look at him on the seventh day, and if in his eyes the infection has not changed and the infection has not spread on the skin, then the priest shall isolate him for seven more days. The priest shall look at him again on the seventh day, and if the infection has faded and the mark has not spread on the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him clean; it is only a scab. And he shall wash his clothes and be clean’…As for the leper who has the infection, his clothes shall be torn, and the hair of his head shall be uncovered, and he shall cover his mustache and cry, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ He shall remain unclean all the days during which he has the infection; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp” (Leviticus 13:1-6, 45-46).

Leprosy and the Evil Tongue

With a detailed explanation of how to deal with leprosy, the Jewish Sages searched for some other passages in the Torah, in order to try and explain what could have possibly brought this affliction upon the Israelites. Many turned to the episode of Moses’ sister Miriam contracting leprosy, and sought out a reason for her contracting the disease. It is noted how in association with her questioning the authority of Moses by speaking ill of him, she experienced a seven-day banishment from the camp until she could be received again:

“Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married (for he had married a Cushite woman); and they said, ‘Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?’ And the LORD heard it. (Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.) Suddenly the LORD said to Moses and Aaron and to Miriam, ‘You three come out to the tent of meeting.’ So the three of them came out. Then the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the doorway of the tent, and He called Aaron and Miriam. When they had both come forward, He said, ‘Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, shall make Myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak with him in a dream. Not so, with My servant Moses, He is faithful in all My household; with him I speak mouth to mouth, even openly, and not in dark sayings, and he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid To speak against My servant, against Moses?’ So the anger of the LORD burned against them and He departed. But when the cloud had withdrawn from over the tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, as white as snow. As Aaron turned toward Miriam, behold, she was leprous. Then Aaron said to Moses, ‘Oh, my lord, I beg you, do not account this sin to us, in which we have acted foolishly and in which we have sinned. Oh, do not let her be like one dead, whose flesh is half eaten away when he comes from his mother’s womb!’ Moses cried out to the LORD, saying, ‘O God, heal her, I pray!’ But the LORD said to Moses, ‘If her father had but spit in her face, would she not bear her shame for seven days? Let her be shut up for seven days outside the camp, and afterward she may be received again.’ So Miriam was shut up outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on until Miriam was received again” (Numbers 12:1-15).

In this passage, Moses’ older sister Miriam and his older brother Aaron not only spoke ill of his choice of a wife, but they also challenged Moses’ leadership and his intimate relationship with the Holy One. This angered the Lord to the point of defending Moses to Aaron and Miriam, in categorical terms, about His familiarity with Him as His servant. As a result of Miriam’s actions, but apparently not Aaron because Miriam initiated the attack, the Lord afflicted her with leprosy, turning her skin white. The punishment for the leprous-induced sin was to place Miriam outside of the camp for seven days, paralleling what is to be done to a person afflicted with leprosy as noted in Leviticus 13. To confirm that there was indeed a connection for disobedience and coming against God’s anointed leader, there is a similar admonition found later in Deuteronomy 24, that makes a similar linkage:

“Be careful against an infection of leprosy that you diligently observe and do according to all that the Levitical priests teach you; as I have commanded them, so you shall be careful to do. Remember what the LORD your God did to Miriam on the way as you came out of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 24:8-9).

Consequently noting the parallels described in other passages of the Torah, the Jewish Sages have widely concluded that speaking evil against someone has serious repercussions—not only to the person being slandered or libeled—but the community itself infected by the lies and or distortions of the truth. Within the Books of Proverbs and Psalms, we especially see how an evil heart and its intentions are directly connected to an evil tongue, which must be tempered and handled properly, lest it do serious damage to God’s people. Simply consider the following summary of some of the main things that the Lord considers to be an abomination to Him:

“There are six things which the LORD hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil, a false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers” (Proverbs 6:16-19).

Further abominations to the Lord would be those who secretly slander a neighbor, those who speak arrogantly against the righteous, and lying lips:

“A perverse heart shall depart from me; I will know no evil. Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor, him I will destroy; no one who has a haughty look and an arrogant heart will I endure” (Psalm 101:4-5).

“Let the lying lips be mute, which speak arrogantly against the righteous with pride and contempt” (Psalm 31:18).

“Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, but those who deal faithfully are His delight” (Proverbs 12:22).

Of course, there is always the Biblical assurance that the Lord will deal specifically with the false witness. The following are warnings from Proverbs about its incumbent punishment:

“A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who tells lies will not escape” (Proverbs 19:5).

“A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who tells lies will perish” (Proverbs 19:9).

Further examination of the Torah shows us that the problem of falsifying facts is quite real, and would need to be dealt with accordingly in the community of Ancient Israel, especially when resolving conflicts or judging iniquities or sin. This was further detailed in Deuteronomy 19, where a false witness who rises up in a case will be purged, in the same manner as a convicted criminal:

“A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed. If a malicious witness rises up against a man to accuse him of wrongdoing, then both the men who have the dispute shall stand before the LORD, before the priests and the judges who will be in office in those days. The judges shall investigate thoroughly, and if the witness is a false witness and he has accused his brother falsely, then you shall do to him just as he had intended to do to his brother. Thus you shall purge the evil from among you. The rest will hear and be afraid, and will never again do such an evil thing among you” (Deuteronomy 19:15-20).

Note that malicious witnesses were to receive the punishment that they had intended for the falsely accused, in order for the evil to be purged and eradicated from the community. After all, the strife spread by evil hearts speaking wicked things, must be minimized in order to maintain goodwill among the people of God. Proverbs 6:14 admonishes each one of us, Who with perversity in his heart continually devises evil, who spreads strife” (Proverbs 6:14).

The Messiah’s Directions

Regrettably, humanity’s challenge with the inherent inclination to speak falsely about others, or simply slander or libel people for a bevy of reasons, continues this verbal malady down through the ages. But beyond the wisdom found in the Proverbs and Psalms, there are additional comments made by Yeshua the Messiah that address not only how to avoid speaking ill of others, but also helps clarify how our Heavenly Father is most concerned about the intentions of the heart rather than rote adherence to vain human traditions. Yeshua speaks directly to the need for people to conduct self-examination, as opposed to constantly judging others with the apparent design to straighten them out:

“Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye. For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit, nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit. For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush. The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart” (Luke 6:41-45).

Yeshua describes the hypocrisy of self-righteous criticism of others, by summarizing the connection between the evil heart and the evil words of the critic. Once again, as noted in the Proverbs and Psalms, the issue is the heart and how a wicked heart can generate evil comments.

In another encounter later in Yeshua’s ministry, He was confronted by some Pharisees who were criticizing the Disciples’ apparent disregard for following a ritualistic hand washing methods of the elders. In this exchange, Yeshua got right to the heart of the matter as He revealed the true heart intentions of His critics. Here Yeshua quoted from Isaiah who prophesied that people would honor God with their lips, while their hearts were far away. Yeshua then went on to explain that what was truly in the hearts of the wicked would be evidenced by what they say:

“Then some Pharisees and scribes came to from Yeshua Jerusalem and said, ‘Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.’ And He answered and said to them, ‘Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, “HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER” [Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16], and, “HE WHO SPEAKS EVIL OF FATHER OR MOTHER IS TO BE PUT TO DEATH” [Exodus 21:17]. But you say, “Whoever says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever I have that would help you has been given to God,’ he is not to honor his father or his mother.” And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: “THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN”’ [Isaiah 29:13]. After Yeshua called the crowd to Him, He said to them, ‘Hear and understand. It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.’ Then the disciples came and said to Him, ‘Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?’ But He answered and said, ‘Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.’ Peter said to Him, ‘Explain the parable to us.’ Yeshua said, ‘Are you still lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man” (Matthew 15:1-20).

When asked by Peter to explain the parable, Yeshua categorically stated that a person was not necessarily defiled by what he or she ate, or for that matter how one washes hands—but rather that the significant defilement to be on guard against comes from the wickedness found in the heart and its manifestation proceeding forth from the mouth.

Clearly, the issues of the heart are what matters most to the Holy One of Israel. Yeshua issued a very sobering word, about how everyone will eventually be held accountable for what they say, revealing what is truly in their hearts:

“Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come. Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil. But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:32-37).

This is a sobering reminder to all who seek the Holy One of Israel, in that there will come a point in time, when there will be some sort of accounting for all that one not only does—but also what one also says. The reality of this should not be taken lightly.

This week, as we read and consider the separation from the Lord, notably to be experienced by skin afflictions—perhaps the Sages were wise to make the much more direct connection between the wickedness of the heart and what proceeds out of the mouth. For certainly, the many words of Yeshua confirm how the Lord is most concerned about the heart intentions of His people. Hence, if you find yourself considering wicked thoughts that may come forth as statements from your mouth, it would be appropriate to confess those sins and repent of them immediately. Certainly learn how to be very careful with what comes out of your mouth!

In the case of the leper, or Miriam, a seven-day period was adequate to be allowed back into the community. But we might question if we have ever taken seven seconds or seven minutes or seven hours—to truly repent before the Lord for wickedness in our hearts that might have come forth from the mouth. Perhaps this would be a good opportunity for each of us to make those confessions, and personally help to clean up the camp—so that any speech impediments will be minimized, and then eliminated.