Leviticus 12:1 – 15:33
Every year, when we arrive at these Torah readings we swerve away from the literal text that describes a skin affliction and, instead, consider the underlying issue of the matter, as taught by our Sages: the ethics of speech. The relevance for our lives of this underlying topic is at least as great as the irrelevance for us of the literal text.
This is because we live in a time of debased language. Totalitarian, anti-democratic regimes are notorious for engaging in “double-speak” and other forms of language suppression and abuse. Sadly, the West has seen these tendencies encroach upon its society, most painfully here in the USA. Another place where this deterioration is painfully evident is in Israel, where screaming and prevaricating, insult and innuendo are all too often the norm in societal discourse.
Therefore, as we leave behind the observance of Israel’s Memorial Day and Independence Day, it is incumbent on us to take note of a singular example of pure speech. I refer to David Grossman’s speech at the joint meeting of bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families, a meeting that the Israeli government did its best to prevent. It was only an order of the Supreme Court, rebuking the Defense Minister, that made the gathering possible. Here is the link:
Grossman can teach us – if we wish to learn – what it would look like and sound like if we used our gift of speech with humility, a commitment to speak the truth and to engage our listeners with compassion.
In the Torah, the person afflicted with the Biblical skin disease is cast out of the camp until he learns his lesson and repents of his slanderous practices. Woe to us when we empower those who abuse speech to cast the truth tellers out of the camp.
Rabbi David Greenstein
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image courtesy Haaretz, Photographer: Ofer Vaknin