Is Jewish History Lashon Harah? | Tazria 5784

My introduction to the prohibition of lashon harah (roughly translated as “negative speech”) was with a song. “Lashon harah lamed hei,” the song begins—the lamed hei being the first letters of each respective word, “spell it backwards that’s where you’ll stay.”

The latter part of the song is what stings most. For those who either haven’t heard the song or worked out what the Hebrew letters lamed hei spelled backward is a reference to, I’ll spell it out for you: הל is a reference to hell.

It happens to be a very charming catchy song. If you hear it once in elementary school it will stay with you for the rest of your life. If you’re hearing it for the first time now, I pray beside you that it doesn’t continue to ring in your ears.

As harsh as the song may seem, is it wrong?

Our parsha introduces the concept of the metzorah, a person afflicted with a skin condition, which the Talmud states is a punishment for the sin of speaking lashon harah.

The punishment certainly fits the crime. A metzorah is removed from the community and dwells by himself. OK, that makes sense. As the Talmud explains, a metzora must dwell alone because he has created loneliness among families and friends through negative speech.

But dwelling alone is not the only part of the purification process for a metzorah. A metzorah must also take two birds—one is sacrificed and the other is set free. It’s a strange part of the process that doesn’t quite connect to the general theme of the metzorah as a speaker of lashon harah. Even the Talmud’s connection seems inadequate. Birds are taken, the Talmud explains, because they chirp—so too one who speaks lashon harah “chirped” and chattered too much. It’s a great allusion to Twitter but why then does the metzorah take two birds—one sacrificed and one set free?

To better understand all of this, let’s explore how lashon harah and the study of Jewish history intersect.

Read the rest on Substack, and listen to the full shiur above!