The Karmic Implications of Gossip

This week’s Dvar Torah on Parashat Metzora is written by Rabbi Norman Lipson, Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Dor Dorim in Weston, and one of our talented Melton & More faculty members. He will be teaching a 4-session Summer mini-course on “Poetry For Fun and Prophet” starting Mondays, July 8, 10:30am-12:00noon at Temple Judea and Tuesdays, July 9, 10:30am-12:00noon at Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center.

Metzora is one of the most unpopular Torah portions for B’nai Mitzvah students preparing Torah summaries, rabbis working on a Shabbat sermon, or for the individual who volunteers to write a Dvar Torah on it [note to self!].

Often mistranslated as “leprosy,” Metzora seems to refer to some type of eruptive mold that infects people, clothing or even dwellings.  If its presence was suspected, a priest would be called, not only to examine the affected area, but also, if necessary, to initiate an intricate ritual of cleansing and purification: isolating the individual or clothing, sealing up the dwelling, possible destruction of the house itself, the sacrificing of birds, lambs, grain, oil, as well as the concomitant sprinkling of blood on the altar, the individual and the priest.

Conducted during the Temple period and before, the above-mentioned rituals came to an abrupt end with the Destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. and the subsequent Diaspora of our People. The burgeoning Pharisaic/Rabbinic system of non-sacrificial based Judaism, maintaining a radically different understanding and reinterpretation of not only the word “Metzora” but also the process and symbolism of its purification procedure, brilliantly transformed Metzora from a physical into a spiritual and societal illness.

Beginning with the premise that the meaning of Metzora is from two Hebrew words [connected to its root letters]: Motzi Ra- Bringing forth/speaking evil, the Rabbis then deduced that the disease of which the Torah speaks, is obviously… Gossip!

According to Rabbinic understanding, the destructive spread of Metzora/ Gossip begins its destructive rampage by ironically, first infecting the one who spreads gossip. If unchecked, it next seeps into the very essence of the individual, symbolized by its infecting his possessions. If further unchecked, the Metzora eventually causes the destruction of his home.

Motzi Ra- the plague of Gossip is ultimately karmic, in that it destroys not only the innocent, but also the originator of the gossip as well.

Two such cautionary examples are especially poignant for us.

A.   Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz (1728-1790) said:

Every transgression, except arrogance, requires an action: a movement of a hand or a foot, a nod of the head or curl of the lip. For arrogance, it is sufficient for one to lie, completely supine, and say to oneself, ‘I am one of the best and greatest- and there is no-one else like me.’

Moral: One needs absolutely nothing-- neither fame, fortune, material goods, nor any activity-- to feel Arrogance.

B.    Rabbi Naftali of Barshad (1760-1827) taught: 
In the world to come, when the Heavenly Tribunal will ask me, ‘Did you occupy yourself with Torah?’ I will answer: ‘Unfortunately, I was an ignorant person and didn’t know how to study.’
‘Did you, at least, participate in worship, fasts and self-denial?’ I will answer: ‘I was weak and didn’t have the strength to do them.’
‘Did you distribute money for tzedakah?’ ‘It was beyond my ability to do so, for I was poor and destitute.’

‘If so,’ they will ask me, ‘if you were ignorant, didn’t have spiritual strength, and had no money, then why are you so arrogant?’ ‘And for that, I will not have an answer.’

Moral: False humility is also a form of Arrogance. In the words of the late Prime Minister of Israel Golda Meir to an American rabbi, who upon receiving a compliment from her and responding in an overly modest way, replied: “Rabbi, you’re not that great to be that humble.”

Metzora will always remain one of the most unpopular Torah portions for B’nai Mitzvah students preparing Torah summaries, rabbis working on a Shabbat sermon, or for the individual who volunteers to write a D’var Torah upon it. Nevertheless, it will also remain as an excellent example of the Rabbinic process at work, as it continually molds, remolds and remolds again, the ever living words of Torah, warning us of the plagues within society, theMetzora of gossip and arrogance and our ever present attraction to them.

Shabbat Shalom!

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