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THE UNTOUCHABLES

by Pinchas Landis    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

"All the days that the affliction is upon him he shall remain contaminated; he is contaminated. He shall dwell in isolation; his dwelling shall be outside the camp" (Leviticus 13:46).

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"All the days that the affliction is upon him he shall remain contaminated; he is contaminated. He shall dwell in isolation; his dwelling shall be outside the camp" (Leviticus 13:46).

This week's Torah portion discusses, in great detail, a spiritually contracted affliction known as tzaraat (defined in the summary at the beginning of the issue). One who is afflicted with tzaraat is known as a metzorah, and such a person is the subject of the above verse. One who is contaminated with tzaraat must remain in isolation during the full period of his contamination. Why must he be isolated - is tzaraat that contagious?

In the Talmud (Tractate Mo'ed Katan), we learn that tzaraat is a punishment primarily for lashon harah, evil speech or slander. It might be hard for us to picture someone who spreads stories about other people being afflicted with a horrible skin disease and being confined to isolation. Today, in our galut (exile), this is treated a bit differently.

People who speak lashon harah are still confined to a form of isolation, or at least isolation from intelligence. Certainly, there are people today who thrive on gossip. Many cannot hold down a conversation unless they are talking about others, but how many intelligent people are there who are in this situation? Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski, a respected contemporary psychiatrist and a noted author, teaches, "Any person with a modicum of intelligence will not make close friends with a gossiper." Why would you want to spend time with a person who is telling you stories about others? They could just as easily go tell stories to other people about you! Who would want to invite that kind of person into their home who will just go tell others how ugly their wallpaper is?

Whether tzaraat is contagious or not is not the issue. The issue is that intelligent people do not want to be around those who speak of others. Today, in our galut, a skin disease might not be the tip-off for us to separate ourselves from those who speak lashon harah, but we must be intelligent enough not to seek the company of people who speak it. We must keep it so that lashon harah will hurt those who speak it, and not merely those who are spoken about. When the people who speak lashon harah feel as if they are isolated, then maybe they will reflect on their actions and do teshuvah (repentance) for what they have done. Indeed, lashon harah is very contagious, and we must strive to remove ourselves from it.

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Pinchas Landis, a native Atlantan, is currently serving as the Grand Aleph Gadol (International President) of the Aleph Zadik Aleph of B'nai Brith, and will be attending Yeshiva University in the fall.

You are invited to read more Parshat Tazria & Metzora articles.

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