By Rabbi Nosson Greenberg
In this week’s parsha the malicious sin of lashon horah (gossiping & slandering) comes to the forefront. Our sages tells us it is one of the underlying reasons one chas v’sholom receives the punishment of tzora’as. Rashi (Vayikra 13,46), quoting Chazal, uses the sin of lashon horah to understand why the metzora must leave all three camps of the B’nai Yisroel and sit alone. He explains, that since this person with his slander created division between husband and wife and separation between friends, he is punished in a similar vein by being separated from contact with other people.
Perhaps we can add that sitting alone serves another purpose, one most apropos to the afflicted tongue-wagger.
The Gemara (Ta’anis 8a) tells us that the actions of a snake during its lifetime of biting ankles of passers-by and killing them will be ridiculed by the other animals of the planet. After all there is no benefit nor enjoyment gained by the snake. In defense the snake will claim he is no worse than the human who spreads gossip and slanders others. For he, too, gains nothing from his actions. Let us analyze this for a second. If there is absolutely no enjoyment in speaking lashon horah, why then do people struggle with it? Surely man is not evil enough that he would waste his time and breath in order that others squirm and suffer at his every revelation and fabrication.
The answer I believe is that life is the quintessential act of multi-tasking. For man must spend his life giving nachas to his Creator and to his fellow man. But there is a third oft overlooked area that man must also address. And that is being good to himself. To feel accomplished, to feel vibrant about his journey through life, and to prove to himself he has what it takes to grow. (The Maharsha (Bava Kamma 30a) tells us that the studying of Pirkei Avos teaches a human how to be good to himself.) When man does not care for his own comfort levels, then he is susceptible to talking lashon horah even though there is no pleasure. He is numbed to the suffering that he causes others because he would not suffer if it were done to him. And the lack of feeling good after spreading a juicy tidbit is insignificant, too, because he is not calibrated to doing things in life for any personal gain.
The holy Reb Menachem Mendel of Vorke is on record for one of the shortest drashos in history. On the possuk “Ve’ohavto le’ray’acha kamocha” (Vayikra 19,18) he cryptically said: “Kamocha? Kamocha!” Perhaps he was asking that the Torah could have just commanded us to love our fellow-man, why did it have to add in the comparison of Kamocha? He answered “Kamocha!” “As thyself” is very much a prerequisite to “Love thy neighbor”. For in order for man to improve his relations with others he must first improve on loving himself.
That is why the metzora must spend time alone. With no-one but himself. He must get to know himself better, and begin caring and focusing on some self-preservation. Eventually, we hope, he will slap himself on the forehead when realizing what an act of futility the pursuit of spreading slander has been to his own life.
Then he can come back home.
Rabbi Nosson Greenberg is rov of Khal Machzikei Torah of Far Rockaway, N.Y., and maggid shiur at Yeshiva of Far Rockaway.