Tazria-Metzora - “the Green Grass Blues”
If you are not aware of it, our Shul is participating in the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation’s “Shabbos of Shmiras Halashon”, an initiate to improve our awareness and habits in connection with “Lashon Hara” (Best definition I’ve heard so far: “badmouthing”), particularly in the context of the social media revolution. Here is a link to the program initiative: https://powerofspeech.org/shabbos-of-shmiras-halashon. Thus, I am bid to talk/focus on this ever-important issue-yet what can I add on this topic that hasn’t been said before?
Instead of discussing the evils of badmouthing others, the horrors of which anyone who has been a target of badmouthing can painfully share and the practice of which the religious public I believe even may be more culpable than others (so much of the badmouthing that goes around in our communities is [shamefully-yes, pun intended] done “Lshaim Shamayim” –“in the name of Hashem”), allow me to share with you a possible avenue of cure, or a tool which may help us battle this literally life-threatening calamity (not only are people’s lives and livelihoods ruined by callous disregard of the dangers of badmouthing, studies are showing that a growing number of suicides are directly related to Lashon Hara and “Cyber Lashon Hara”):
The beginning of our Parasha, Tazria, tells us that when a male is born, the mother contracts Tumah, or “impurity”, for a period of 7 days. If a female is born, the impurity lasts not for 7 days but double that-14 days! As a Rabbi, I cannot tell you how many times I have been challenged with explaining this. First-why would the creation of any human being create or cause impurity? -and second, why would a female contract more impurity than a male? To be sure, this attitude stokes the fire of any one arguing that the Torah imparts misogynistic attitudes and views women/females as lesser beings-something I vehemently disagree with, as I hope you do.
Here is my offer: Jewish works from the philosophical (such as Ramcha”l-Rabbi M.C. Luzatto, and Mahara”l-Rabi Lowy of Prague) to the Kabbalistic/Chasidic (such as Ariza”l, R’ M.M. of “Kotzk, and Rav Kook) explain that when the human soul-the very spark of the G-dhead itself departs a body at death, a vacuum in holiness is created, imparting “Tumas Mes”-the ultimate impurity caused when life ceases. A void, a gap, an emptiness is immediately formed. It is this vacuum that creates the opportunity for impurity to rush in and fill that void. In other words-in the absence of holiness and Kedusha-something must fill that void. “There ain’t no such thing as neutral” in spirituality. When the good goes out-the bad whooshes in. The void is filled in an instant. In essence, impurity is defined as the absence of Kedusha. And therefore, the higher the Kedusha, the greater the holiness and light present in anything, the bigger and larger is the void when such holiness departs. Death thus creates the greatest Tumah- something for example, Kohanim, priests must avoid at almost any cost.
Continuing with this idea, think about a birth. The mother is carrying another life, a soul, a literal piece of Hashem, a Neshama. After birth, that soul leaves the body. A mini-death if you will. The Torah therefore prescribes a brief “mourning” period, a “Tumah” period of 7 days-caused by the sudden absence of such Kedusha, created by the new void of holiness within the host mother.
Continuing with this logic friends, here is my Chiddush: What can we now say about double prescription of a 14-day Tumah period? Well, it must be, actually, that the Torah views the female soul as being loftier – and clearly holier than the male! -after all, the void created by the departed female soul creates a double Tumah! i.e. it represents a greater loss of holiness, of light, of Shechina. So, if anything friends, this Parsha reflects the elevated divinity of our female counterparts in creation-which I believe is wholly consistent with the Torah’s overall approach to the position of the mother as the one who in Halacha dictates one very Judaic identity…
What does any of this have to do with Lashon Hara? Everything. What motivates us to badmouth others? Experts and laypeople will agree on this I am sure: Lashon Hara stems (way too) often from an inner emptiness, a void within the speaker. With a void and “gap” on one’s own life, one more easily looks at the life of others, seeking to elevate themselves over the other. Simply put: we try to make ourselves feel and look better when we can make someone else look bad. That almost always occurs not because we are truly better than the next. Rather, it’s usually because we feel personally inadequate, with lives less filled with purpose, meaning and validation. We therefore, with empty refrigerators, look at our neighbors “packed fridges”, and start to talk about how theirs is really full of spoiled food… Despite the glorious green on the other side of the fence, we tell ourselves our neighbor’s grass is really blue…We all forget of course that our very looking into other people’s lives reveals our own inadequacies and insecurities. It’s really us that refuse to water our own lawn…
The cure? Water our own gardens. Ensure that our lives are filled with meaning, purpose, growth—Shechina. Focusing on our own development as opposed to spending time and energy “talking junk” about everyone else to make our own empty lives seem fuller will leave little time for poking into other people’s pots, will leave no room for impurity to overtake us, and will guarantee the continued presence of the divine light of Shechina blessing all that we do.
So friends, let us enter this Shabbos as the Parsha begins-looking forward to birth and renewal within ourselves as opposed to the perceived vacancies in others, and as we do so gain the blessings contained in the rest of our Parasha-the cleansing of all that is toxic to our bodies and souls and the ability to see the divine light in all spheres of our existence.
Shabbat Shalom L’Kulam”! A Gutten Shabbos to all.