Parashat Tazria

The Leprosy Of Irresponsible Speech

Learning tocontrol our speech will enable us to transform the world into a community thatrespects the shared humanity of all people.

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Like An Arrow

In the words of the Rabbis, "A loose tongue is like an arrow. Once it is shot, there is no holding it back." The Midrash notes that five times, the word "Torah," teaching, is used to refer to 'tzara'at.' From this superfluous repetition, the sages derive that "one who utters evil reports is considered in violation of the entire five books of the Torah."

A marvelous tale is told of a wandering merchant who came into a town square, offering to sell the elixir of life. Of course, large crowds would surround him, each person eager to purchase eternal youth. When pressed, the merchant would bring out the Book of Psalms, and show them the verse "Who desires life? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from guile."

In an age awash in corrosive mistrust, a lack of confidence in our public leaders, and an alienating sense of loneliness and isolation, there is little hope of establishing real community until we learn to speak a new language--one of responsibility, kindness and compassion.

Rather than spreading rumors to make others look bad, we can devise empathic explanations for why someone might have acted in a disappointing way. Rather than repeating a racist joke, we can focus attention on the shared humanity of all people. Rather than speaking about other people, we can speak to them, out of love and a desire to live in a shared community together.

By learning to channel and control our speech, we will transform our world from one of isolation and cynicism to one of community and trust. Isn't that what the rule of God is all about?

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Rabbi Bradley Artson

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson is Vice-President of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles and Dean of its Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies. He served as a congregational rabbi in Southern California for ten years. Rabbi Artson?is the author of The Bedside Torah and co-author of a children's book, I Have Some Questions about God.