This week, we read the double parsha of Tazria-Metzora, whose primary topics include the discussion of Tzara’as. While commonly translated as leprosy, Tzara’as was actually a miraculous disease that appeared as lesions on a person’s skin when they had spoken Lashon Hara. In different situations, these lesions could appear on clothing or buildings as well. When a Kohen confirmed that the lesions were Tzara’as, the victim had to separate himself for a week from the rest of the nation since he was considered tamei. He used that week to do Teshuvah for his sin. Afterwards the Kohen would confirm he was cured and the victim could reenter society.
There is a famous medrash we have discussed before which pertains to Tzara’as. The story goes like this: There was a peddler who was going through the streets shouting, “Who wants to buy the elixir of life!” Rav Yanai, an amorah, asked him for the elixir. The peddler told him that he didn’t need it, but Rav Yanai insisted. The peddler pulled out a Sefer Tehillim and quoted, “מי האיש החפץ חיים … נצר לשונך מרע” “Who is the man who desires life...stop your tongue from speaking evil” (Tehillim 34:13-14). Rav Yanai replied that he never understood the simple explanation of the pasuk until the peddler explained it to him (Rabba 16:2).
There are many questions which come up upon reading this story, I’d like to mention three. First, this peddler was not such a good businessman. Instead of selling wares that people usually buy from merchants, he was handing out Mussar! Not exactly a winning business strategy. Who was this man really? Secondly, even though Rav Yanai insisted he tell him, did the peddler really think he could teach the great amorah, Rav Yanai the simple explanation of a pasuk? Lastly, and perhaps most surprisingly, how could it be that Rav Yanai didn’t know the explanation of this pasuk except from this peddler? It seems very simple!
Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky explains that this peddler was really just a peddler. However, in addition to household wares, he also sold books. In order to market his books, he said that he was selling the elixir of life. A high claim, but a true one. The books really were an elixir for life, since what was contained within the books was life itself.
Rav Yanai understood that not speaking Lashon Hara would lead to long life; what he was asking for was the elixir, i.e. he was asking for something that would help him achieve his goal of not speaking Lashon Hara. And then the peddler showed him the “elixir”, it was Torah. Hashem gave us the Torah to study and keep, it is an elixir that leads to long life. At this, Rav Yanai was surprised. He couldn’t believe it was so easy to follow the edict of the pasuk, “נצר לשונך מרע”! All he had to do was continue learning Torah.
There are many different suggestions and tips given in order to prevent our speaking Lashon Hara. While they are all useful to know, let us remember that as long as we are focused on Torah, we have a special elixir ready for us that will help us in our quest to stop speaking evil.
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