Making sense of the sedra: Tazria

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Making sense of the sedra: Tazria

Careless talk costs lives

Al-Ahli Hospital
Al-Ahli Hospital

Careless talk costs lives. Loose lips sink ships. These statements were the mantras of Britain during the Second World War. The Torah has always warned us against evil speech, lashon hara, but even innocent gossip can lead to devastating consequences.

Our sages compare speaking lashon hara to murder, and I think we have seen evidence for this on personal and national levels. Words can ruin lives, whether directly or indirectly. And let’s be clear – it’s not just talking, its texting, tweeting and tiktok-ing.

This week’s parasha, Tazria, talks in depth about the consequences of lashon hara and the process of redeeming oneself. In last week’s parasha, we read about kosher and non-kosher animals. When listing some examples of non-kosher animals, the Torah always mentions the positive, kosher sign first: “And the pig, because it has a cloven hoof that is completely split, but will not regurgitate its cud; it is unclean for you.” (Vayikra 11:7).

The Torah here is setting us up with a great plan for avoiding lashon hara. If we look for the positive in someone or something, we may be less likely to say something bad. Lashon hara specifically refers to things that are actually true (falsehoods are for a whole other article).

I am sure I am not the only person who is finding the news coming out of Israel upsetting and damaging. A notable example of the detrimental effects of speech we have seen was not long after the October 7 attacks. Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza was bombed and some 500 people were killed. As we watched news outlets around the world blame Israel, we held our breaths, hoping it wasn’t true. When it was proven to be a false claim, we were then hit with the revelation that the damage had already been done.

As Jewish News reported on 20 October 2023: “The Foreign Secretary has called on broadcasters to go for ‘accuracy rather than pace because their words have impact here in the UK and around the world’.” Later on Charlotte Henry wrote: “Sunak also noted the terrible effect the initial reporting had. The misreporting of that incident had a negative effect in the region, including on a vital US diplomatic effort, and on communal tensions here at home” (26 October 2023, Jewish News). This is clear recognition that words have indeed stoked the fire of this conflict.

Whether we’re disparaging an individual, group or country, or reading about it or listening to other people’s opinions, it is important to remind ourselves to look for the inherent good in humanity. I end with a beautiful quote from Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks: “The test of faith is whether I can make space for difference. Can I recognise God’s image in someone who is not in my image; whose language, faith and ideal is different from mine?”

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