Lashon Hara, the Treifah and the Ba’al Mum

וּבָשָׂר בַּשָּׂדֶה טְרֵפָה לֹא תֹאכֵלוּ לַכֶּלֶב תַּשְׁלִכוּן אֹתוֹ. לֹא תִשָּׂא שֵׁמַע שָׁוְא

You shall not eat the flesh of an animal that was torn in the field, to the dog you shall throw it. Do not accept a false report. (22:30-23:1)

The Gemara[1] expounds the words “do not accept a false report” as prohibiting lashon hara (slander). Based on the juxtaposition of this prohibition to the words in the preceding verse, “to the dogs you shall throw it,” the Gemara declares that one who either speaks or accepts lashon hara is himself deserving of being thrown to the dogs. 

The Meshech Chochmah elaborates on the above statement by noting that the item which the preceding verse states should be thrown to the dog is a treifah, i.e. an animal that is has been rendered not kosher due to a life-threatening defect.

Direct and Indirect Sanctification

He prefaces his explanation by referring to the halachah that there are two animals which cannot be sanctified as a korban: 1) a treifah and 2) a ba’al mum (blemished animal).[2]

However, while neither of these can be directly sanctified as a korban, there are three ways in which the ba’al mum can receive the sanctity of a korban in an indirect manner:

1.   Maaser: One out of every ten animals born each year is sanctified to be brought as a korban. If the one of these animals is a ba’al mum, it retains its sanctity.[3]

2.   V’lad: If it is the offspring of an animal that is sanctified as a korban.[4]

3.   Temurah: If one tries to transfer the sanctity from one animal to another, both become sanctified, even if the second animal is a ba’al mum.[5]

By contrast, in all the above instances, if the animal was a treifah, it would not receive the sanctity of a korban even indirectly.[6]

Hilchos Korbanos with Human Experience

Paralleling the above three situations, we find that there can be times when even if an individual is not deserving of merit in his own right – rendering him analogous to the ba’al mum – he can nonetheless indirectly partake of the merits of others:

·      Merit of the community: Even if people are not deserving of Divine favor as individuals, they can still receive it via being part of the community.[7] This corresponds to the maaser animal whose sanctity comes by being part of a group of animals.

·      Merits of one’s forebears: A person can benefit from the merits of his righteous ancestors, a concept known as “z’chus avos.”[8] This corresponds to the offspring of a sanctified animal.

·      Merits of one’s teacher: The Gemara states that a student can receive atonement in the merit of a righteous teacher from whom he learned Torah.[9] This corresponds to the temurah case, where the Torah knowledge is transferred from the teacher to the student.

However, as we noted, these possibilities exist specifically for a ba’al mum, not for a treifah. The ba’al mum is disqualified from being brought as a korban, but is permissible for human consumption. Likewise, a person whose blemishes lie in the realm between man and God, while he is not sanctified directly, can yet benefit indirectly from the sanctity and merit of others.

By contrast, the treifah is forbidden not only to be brought as a korban, but also to be consumed by humans. As such, its problematic status exists not only in the realm between man and God, but also between man and his fellow man. Likewise a person who speaks or receives lashon hara, in addition to violating a mitzvah of his Creator, also causes damage and corrosion to his fellow man, thereby making him the equivalent of a treifah. As one who has disrupted his relationship with others – both individuals and the community – he thus cannot benefit from their merit, and therefore cannot partake of their sanctity even indirectly

This, then, is the full message from the juxtaposition of these two verses. The first verse states that a treifah animal should be thrown to the dog, while the second proceeds to discuss a person who – through speaking lashon hara – has those same characteristics, indicating that he is deserving of the same treatment.

[1] Pesachim 118a.

[2] See Bechoros 14a and Temurah 17a.

[3] Bechoros 57a.

[4] Ibid. 14b.

[5] Temurah 16b. In all these three cases, the blemished animal itself is not brought as a korban. However, it needs to be redeemed from its sanctified status, with the funds used to purchase an animal that will be offered as a korban.

[6] Bechoros 57a and Temurah 17a.

[7] See e.g. Rosh Hashanah 17b.

[8] See e.g. Koheles Rabbah 2:4.

[9] See Eiruvin 54a.