The Torah describes the procedure for a metzora (a person afflicted with tzara'at) upon conclusion of his isolation. This process extends for a week and involves korbanot and immersions in the mikveh. Then, a kohen must pronounce the metzora pure. A metzora of limited financial means may substitute lesser offerings for the more expensive animals. Before a kohen diagnoses that a house has tzara'at, household possessions are removed to prevent them from also being declared ritually impure. The tzara'at is removed by smashing and rebuilding that section of the house. If it reappears, the entire building must be razed. The Torah details those bodily secretions that render a person spiritually impure, thereby preventing his contact with holy items, and the Torah defines how one regains a state of ritual purity.
Picking Up And Putting Down
In what seems about a hundred years ago in the late sixties, when all manner of New Age spirituality was taking off, some of us started to take an interest in the teachings of an arcane 19th century Russian mystic called Gurdjieff.
A friend of mine described how, as a young spiritual seeker, he joined a Gurdjieff group. (The leader of the group just happened to be Jewish, surprise, surprise). The group was ‘working on itself’ to try and internalize the principle that the biggest barrier to our psychological and spiritual awakening is the desire to put other people down. The study group’s maxim was “Don’t let a putdown pass your lips!”
At the tender age of 19, putdowns didn’t seem like such a big deal to him and he found it strange that the promised path to spiritual awakening should be something that seemed rather peripheral to life. However, my friend took it upon himself to uphold this principle.
After a few months of somewhat episodic performance of this maxim, my friend was intrigued to find that this single discipline had started to illuminate many hidden and sometimes uncomfortable feelings. This one piece of self-restraint was uncovering a deeper negativity that was self-directed.
Ultimately, my friend found his way back to Judaism, and when he started to learn this week’s Torah portion, he was amazed to find that the principles he had ascribed to a Russian mystic were, in fact, from a much older source.
The title of this week’s parsha is Metzora. Metzora can be read as an acrostic for Motzei shem rah – denigrating remarks about others. This week’s reading begins with the process that has to be undertaken by someone who has sullied the power of speech.
What is the secret power of positive speech? Why does what one say have such a great influence on one’s sense of spiritual well-being?
G-d created the world by speaking. “And G-d said, ‘Let there be light…” “And G-d said…” “And G-d said…”
In Hebrew, the word for a “thing” – davar — and the word for “word” are identical. On a deeper level, every’thing’ in this world, the entire Creation and its continued existence, is nothing more than G-d speaking.
When our speech contains no putdowns, obscenity, nor innuendo of obscenity; when our lips articulate the support of our fellow man and every word that leaves our mouths carries the stamp of kosher speech, it’s no wonder that we feel in touch with ourselves, for we are in touch with the essence of Creation itself.
Whereas Gurdjieff-like disciplines focus on the benefits to the individual and society, the Torah is equally concerned with a wider agenda. For when our speech is correct and appropriate we become partners with G-d in the work of the Creation. Our words literally become things. Our speech metamorphoses into the fabric of existence itself.
- Source: Based on a story by Mrs Sarah Shapiro in American Jewish Spirit