This week’s Torah portion, Metzora, is the dread of B’nei Mitzvah students and teachers everywhere. In it, we learn about Tzara’at, frequently translated as leprosy, a disease that can afflict a person, or even a home and render them or it ritually impure. Not exactly fun reading unless you happen to be a dermatologist. There is a really important lesson contained deep within it, though.
Our rabbis teach that tzara’at comes to us through the sin of motzi shem ra – gossip. For indeed, gossip spreads quickly like a disease and damages everything it touches – sometimes irreparably. One of my favorite stories tells of a man who was spreading terrible gossip about his rabbi. When the rabbi found out, the man was deeply embarrassed and went to his rabbi begging for forgiveness.
“Of course I will forgive you,” the rabbi said. “But first, I need you to do me a favor.”
“Anything,” replied the man.
“Go to your home and get your fluffiest feather pillow and bring it to the town square. Once there, open the pillow and let the feathers all come out. Then come back to me.”
The man thought this a very strange request indeed, but he did as the rabbi had asked. The next day, he returned to his rabbi.
“Wonderful,” said the rabbi. “Now go back to the town square and gather up all of the feathers and put them back into the pillow.”
“But Rabbi,” said the man, “I couldn’t possibly do that! The wind has picked up the feathers and blown them all about the town. I’ll never find them all.”
“So too it is with gossip. Your words have reached all throughout the town and beyond. The damage has spread too far to take it back.”
Gossip can seem like fun, but it really can quickly become dirty feathers floating in the breeze, doing so much more damage than we ever imagined. As we begin to prepare for Pesach, we are removing the chameitz from our lives. Traditionally you take a feather and sweep the bread crumbs away. I hope this year, we can consider the feathers of gossip in our own lives, and attempt to remove them as well.
Cantor Sally Neff