Parshat Metzora speaks about the healing process of the metzora from their tzara’at skin affliction. The Sages explain that one suffers from this malady due to speaking lashon hara, evil speech, about others. Lashon hara is such a bad thing that it completely transforms the individual for the worse—to the point that their skin starts to show the effects of this negative behavior!
How can we overcome the natural urge to commit this offense? Here are two tips I learned from my days at Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva in Yerushalayim that have helped me over the years.
Rav Zvi Yehuda Kook z”l, the former Rosh Yeshiva of Mercaz HaRav, wanted to ensure his students would not speak disparagingly about each other and that they would set a good example for others with their positive speech. Therefore, he instituted that everyone, even after his passing, learn the laws of lashon hara daily from 1:00 pm to 1:15 pm. This is exactly what I did while I was there and it helped!
Oftentimes, we are not careful about evil speech simply because the prohibition is not on our minds. Learning the laws of lashon hara on a continuous basis, like I did in yeshiva, allows one to be more conscious of this negative behavior. In addition, the more one learns, the easier it is to know what one really can say and which types of speech should be avoided.
Another direction I learned in yeshiva to help avoid evil speech is to increase in love for others. Many times we find ourselves speaking negatively about others simply because we feel negatively about them. Later on in Vayikra, the Torah tells us “Do not gossipmonger among your people” (Lev 19:16). The verse immediately afterwards says “You shall not hate your brother in your heart” (Lev 19:17). This juxtaposition teaches that when you hate somebody in your heart, it is easier to speak badly about them. We were encouraged at Mercaz HaRav to see everybody as our brother and sister because when we do this it’s very hard to speak disparagingly about them.
Think about your family, your loved ones, your spouse, or even a candidate that you are very passionate about during a political race. When someone speaks negatively about a person who is very close to us, we do not want to engage in this conversation. Even more so, we oftentimes will defend them at all costs from this negative speech! So imagine if we saw everyone this way, as our brothers and our sisters, with a good eye and in a positive way. How easy would it be for us to withhold ourselves from speaking lashon hara about them! This is what the rabbis at my yeshiva wanted to impress upon us.
So these are my two tips. Learn the laws in a consistent manner. And try to strengthen your love and appreciation for others. The more love we have for others, the harder it will be to speak negatively about them. And the easier it will be for us to lift them up and speak good words about them to others!
Rabbi Dr. Eli Yoggev
Associate Rabbi of Baltimore’s Beth Tfiloh Congregation