These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: CD #984 – What’s Tonight’s Sefira? Good Shabbos!
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A Shmoozer Can Also Be Meticulous About the Laws of Lashon Hara
The Torah describes the procedure that is to be followed when the healed Metzora completes his period of seclusion: “The Kohen shall command; and for the person being purified there shall be taken two live, pure birds, cedar wood, a crimson tongue of wool, and hyssop” [Vayikra 14:4]. The Korban that the Metzora brings when he finishes his period of tumah is a unique type of sacrifice. Rashi comments on the fact that birds are uncharacteristically the key component of the metzorah‘s offering: This is because lashon hara [evil speech] is the cause of the negaim [skin blemishes]. Lashon hara is loose speech, a kind of thoughtless chirping on the part of the person. The symbolism of the birds is that these creatures too constantly utter chirping sounds with their voices. Therefore, the Kapara [atonement] for the Metzorah is bringing birds. As a moral lesson for one who “chirped too much” he symbolically uses incessantly chirping creatures in his atonement ritual.
What does the Metzora do with these two birds? “…the one bird shall be slaughtered into an earthenware vessel over spring water. The live bird, he shall take it and the cedar wood and the crimson tongue of wood and the hyssop, and he shall dip them and the live bird into the blood of the bird that was slaughtered over the spring water. Then he shall sprinkle seven times upon the person being purified from the tzara’as; he shall purify him, and he shall set the live bird free upon the open field” [Vayikra 14:5-7]. Essentially, he slaughters one of the birds and then dips the other bird into the blood along with the accompanying materials, and then sends it away.
What is the symbolism here? Why does he not slaughter both birds, as we find with most other bird sacrifices? Here instead of slaughtering the second bird, he sends it free. What is the meaning of this?
The Kli Yakar alludes to an answer, but I saw an elaboration of the idea expressed in the Kli Yakar in a sefer called Avir Yosef. As we well know, the Chofetz Chaim “wrote the book” on Lashon Hara. He resurrected and resuscitated awareness and observance of the laws of Lashon Hara in Klal Yisrael with his sefer Shmiras HaLashon.
What type of personality did the Chofetz Chaim’s have? Was the Chofetz Chaim a big schmoozer or a person who tended not to talk a lot? We might assume that the Chofetz Chaim, who was so meticulous about the observance of Shmiras HaLashon, was not a big talker. However, those who knew him — and there are still people alive today who remember the Chofetz Chaim — testify to the well documented fact that he was a very big talker. He used to schmooze with people; he would talk a lot with visitors.
Why did he do that? The answer is that the Chofetz Chaim was trying to tell us something about Lashon Hara. A person does not have to be a “Silent Sam” to be meticulous about the laws of gossip and tale bearing. A person can be a talkative person, a person can be a friendly person, a person can be engaged with people and spend time with people and still carefully avoid any speech which is inappropriate according to Torah law.
In order to make this point that a person can be a conversationalist and a raconteur and yet be fully compliant with the Halachos of Lashon Hara, the Chofetz Chaim went out of his way to participate in conversation and social interaction.
The Kli Yakar says that this too is the message of the two birds. He slaughters one and sends the other away. The one that he slaughters symbolizes Lishna Bisha — evil speech that was spoken in the past. The only solution for one who is engaged in such toxic conversation is Shechitah — such a bird must be eradicated. The bird that lives on represents Lishna Tova — good speech, constructive speech, friendly speech. The Torah’s counsel to be observant in matters of Lashon Hara is not to become silent. A person needs to learn how to talk, but how to talk correctly. The message of the live bird that he sends away corresponds to the “good chirping” that a person is capable of and that a person should attempt to engage in. The trait of “chirping” does not need to be “killed”. We can enhance, improve, and channel it. This is the message of the slaughtered bird and the bird sent away on the open field.
Rav Asher Weiss in his Minchas Asher on Chumash uses this idea to answer a question that everyone asks.
In a very famous Medrash, a peddler came to town and announced, “Who wants life? Who wants life?” Everyone heard that a new peddler in town was selling an elixir of life and they flocked around him to inquire about his wares. He got up on a chair and recited the verse from Tehillim: “Who is the man who desires life who loves days of seeing good? Guard your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit.” [Tehillim 34:13-14]. The Medrash says that Rav Yannai was there and he was so amazed from this peddler and the novel idea he taught. The peddler’s words completely enamored him.
Everyone asks the same question: What did the peddler say that Rav Yannai did not already know? The peddler merely quoted verbatim a couple of psekum from Tehillim! He did not elaborate on the verses nor did he provide any new insight into their interpretation. What was so impressive to Rav Yannai?
The Minchas Asher suggests that the chiddush is not what the peddler said; the chiddush is who said it! Peddlers of old not only sold goods and peddled wares. They were the classic gossipmongers. In fact, when the Torah tells us not to speak Lashon Hara, the language it uses is Lo Telech Rachil b’Amecha — literally, do not go as a peddler in your nation! The way the peddler business used to work in Talmudic times is that the peddler would go from city to city and from house to house and he would garner pieces of information. He would garner pieces of dirt about everyone in town and then he would spread the tales of gossip from house to house and from town to town. This is how he would find favor with the people and have them welcome him into their homes and communities so he could ultimately sell them his material wares.
The chiddush of this peddler is that he was a peddler and yet he was meticulous about the laws of Lashon Hara. He did go from town to town and he did pick up pieces of information and he did have friendly conversation with his customers, but he did not engage in lashon hara. Indeed, he preached against it!
The chiddush was that he was like the Chofetz Chaim — a talker, a schmoozer, but not a baal lashon hara. There is lishna bisha [evil talk] that needs to be slaughtered and there is lishna tava [good talk] that needs to be kept alive.
“They Shall Not Die As A Result of Their Impurity”
In conclusion, I will share a brief homiletic insight from Chapter 15 Verse 31: “You shall separate the Children of Israel from their impurity; and they shall not die as a result of their impurity…” There is a message in this pasuk for all rabbis and for all teachers and indeed for all parents.
Any person who has been in the rabbinate or who has been in positions of spiritual leadership — a Rebbi, a teacher, a parent — knows the feeling: We talk, we give mussar to people, we say over what we feel are inspirational messages — until we are blue in the face — and ostensibly our words have no impact, whatsoever.
Yeshiva mashgichim have been telling students from time immemorial that they need to get up for davening in the morning and be on time for minyan but unfortunately their words are not always accepted. Rabbanim give mussar about all sorts of things and people often persist in doing what they have always been doing. How many Rabbis have spoken out time after time that people should not talk during davening? Yet people continue to talk during davening. How many times as parents have we had the experience that we tell something to our kids — repeatedly — to no avail? Apparently, it just goes in one ear and out the other.
That is what this pasuk is teaching us. “You shall separate the Children of Israel from their impurity.” You need to give mussar. You need to preach. You need to tell them what is right and what is wrong, to stay away from things that defile. Ostensibly, it has no impact. “And they shall not die as a result of their impurity.” However, one day, one place and one time — maybe when they are very old, may even when they are about to die — when they die, they will not die of their impurity. Why did they not die of their impurity? It is because your words did make an impact.
If you have been in the rabbinate or the teaching business or even the parent business, you see that sometimes you preach and preach and preach and maybe it takes twenty, thirty, or forty years but when people get older they may indeed admit, “You know, what you told me way back when made a lot of sense.” As Mark Twain said, “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. However, when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
This is the message of the pasuk. You have to preach and you have to give mussar (“You shall separate the Children of Israel from their impurity”). Do not think it has no impact. Maybe not now but one day they will change (“They will not die in their state of impurity.”)
Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Tazria is provided below:
- CD# 007 – Self-Defense
- CD# 051 – Moser: The Dilemma of the Jewish IRS Agent
- CD# 094 – Hallel on Yom Ha’Atzmaut?
- CD# 142 – Eyeglasses in Halacha
- CD# 189 – Mikveh: Tevillah and Chaziza
- CD# 279 – Women’s Testimony in Hilchos Niddah
- CD# 325 – The Microscope in Halacha
- CD# 369 – Bris Millah That Causes Chilul Shabbos
- CD# 413 – Speaking Lashon Horah on Baalei Machlokes
- CD# 457 – Getting an Aliyah After Childbirth
- CD# 501 – Milah and the Sick Baby
- CD# 545 – Dangerous Medical Procedures
- CD# 589 – Pidyon Haben – Daytime or Night?
- CD# 633 – Lashon Harah and Lashon HaTov
- CD# 677 – Tallis Koton — Wool or Cotton?
- CD# 721 – Eruv Pesach – Mores Special Than You Think
- CD# 765 – How Many Mitzvos of Sefira Are There?
- CD# 809 – Netilas Yadayim – Things You Never Knew
- CD# 853 – Mila on Shabbos: Fascinating Questions
- CD# 897 – Insights Into Sefiras Ha’Omer
- CD# 942 – Kiddush Hashem – Is Everyone Obligated?
- CD# 984 – “What’s Tonight’s Sefira?” and other Sefira Issues
- CD#1028 – Davening Maariv Early: Does it Make it Tomorrow?
- CD#1073 – Bracha Achrona – How Fast Or Slow Must One Eat?
- CD#1115 – Office Lashon Horah – How Far Must You Go To Avoid It?
- CD#1157 – But the Butcher I Buy From Has a Reliable Reputation!
- CD#1201 – The Shabbos Bris and the Borei P’ri Ha’gefen
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