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Parshat Metzora

Posted by rabbiart on April 21, 2008

Torah Reading: Vayikra 14:1 to 15:33 Haftorah Reading: 2 Kings 7:3 to 7:20

This Shabbat is known as Shabbat HaGadol (The Big Shabbat) because it is the last Shabbat before Pesach. Ok, there is one more Shabbat, but it occurs immediately before Pesach, so in some communities Shabbat HaGadol moves forward one week. What is so important about Shabbat HaGadol? Traditionally it is the Shabbat on which the Rabbi would give a major talk about the meaning of Pesach and instruction about preparation for Pesach and conducting the Pesach seder. (So I guess we’ve been doing Shabbat HaGadol in the weekly email for a few weeks in the F.A.Q. section being written this month by Rebbitzin Robinson, and is that fun to say, or what?)

It might be an understatement to say that the two parshiot of Tazria and Metzora present challenges to the modern reader of the Torah. The variety of diseases presented appear to be completely lacking in social important or even any religious significance. Indeed, were we not committed to reading all the parshiot in the Torah, we might finding ourselves voting to skip ahead.

Modern scholarship has established that the human afflictions covered in the parshah are not “leprosy” because the symptoms to not match. Leprosy is not cured in a week or two. But Rabbinic tradition has already made a radical reinterpretation of this material. It takes the name of the parshah, metzora, for an acronym meaning Motzei Shem Ra (literally, Bringing out a Bad Name), which is to say LaShon HaRa (literally, the Bad Tongue), or gossip. The afflictions described, the tradition concluded, are a divine punishment on those who gossip.

The classic Hasidic story about the danger and irretrievable harm caused by the evil tongue is of a Rabbi who tells a repentant gossiper to cut open a feather pillow and scatter the contents to the wind. He does as the rabbi directed. The rabbi then instructs him to go collect all the feathers. His reaction was “But Rabbi, that is completely impossible, no one could gather all the feathers.” The rabbi’s response? “So it is with tale bearing and gossip. The damage done can never be repaired.” The solution? To never gossip in the first place.

Shabbat Shalom

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