Parshat Tazria: The Gossip Challenge
כׇּל־יְמֵ֞י אֲשֶׁ֨ר הַנֶּ֥גַע בּ֛וֹ יִטְמָ֖א טָמֵ֣א ה֑וּא בָּדָ֣ד יֵשֵׁ֔ב מִח֥וּץ לַֽמַּחֲנֶ֖ה מוֹשָׁבֽוֹ׃
The person shall be impure as long as the disease is present. Being impure, that person shall dwell apart, in a dwelling outside the camp.
This week we read about an unfortunate biblical affliction called Tzara’at. This illness is unlike any other. Whereas most illnesses are related to the things we put in our mouth, this one is caused by what comes out of it. One who contracts this disease is called a “metzora” which our rabbis connect to the phrase “motzei shem ra” or one who speaks ill of another person. In our tradition we do not take talking about each other lightly. At the most extreme end, the Talmud even compares talking of another person to killing them!
There is a time and a place for speaking about others. When getting advice about whether or not to marry somebody or offer them a job, it’s okay to speak about another person. When the information will be used to bring about justice or help right a wrong, it is okay to speak of another person. But when we speak about others because we like to gossip, or because we can’t think of anything else to talk about, it is an act that harms three people at once: the person sharing the information, the listener, and the one who is being spoken about.
The biblical remedy for the metzora is to isolate themselves from the community for a week. This gives them the opportunity for a reset in the way they speak, not having others with whom to talk. I would challenge us to isolate ourselves from gossiping for a week. Can you do it? Not speaking about others, whether the information is good or bad, true or false, can be very challenging. But the less we talk about others, the more we will be surprised by the substantive conversations that take its place.