Grappling With Gossip
Tazria-Metzora (Leviticus 12-15 )
Gossiping may seem harmless, but it can cause people a lot of pain. In this week's Torah portion we learn about tzara'at, the spiritual disease that one time would affect people who gossiped. Even today, gossip - mentioning derogatory things about others - is a 'disease' we should avoid.
In our story, a kid learns that not only feathers fly.
"Okay, guys. Lights out in 15 minutes - right?" Janet's mother said with a dubious smile to Janet and her three friends, Debby, Liz and Kate, whom she'd invited to her sleepover birthday party.
"Um, sure Mom ... more or less," Janet nodded as her mom clicked closed the door of the sleeping bag-strewn playroom.
The four of them had been having a great time ever since the guests had arrived and nobody really wanted the night to end. Actually, there was supposed to have been a fifth kid at the party - Jill, who'd called Janet that morning to cancel, tearfully confessing that her mother had grounded her for an entire month as punishment for her terrible report card. The other kids, who Janet assumed didn't even know Jill had been invited, hadn't mentioned anything about her not being there and neither had Janet. But now, with the evening winding down, she felt this little tidbit of gossip would be just the thing to start the ball rolling for the late-night gab session that was a required part of any self-respecting sleepover party.
"Hey, guys, guess..." she started to say when ... BOOMPH ... she felt herself clobbered on the side of her head with a soft, fluffy pillow.
"Pillow fight!" Kate squealed as the giggling girls all instantly grabbed their cushiony 'weapons' to engage in another time-honored sleepover ritual.
Peals of laughter rang out between the whoomph, whoomph of the swinging pillows as the shag-carpeted playroom was transformed into a battlefield. But the bubbly 'battle' came to an abrupt end when Janet's pillow sprung a leak, shooting wisps of downy feathers like snow flurries throughout the room.
"Oh, no!" Janet said with panic in her voice. "My mom's for sure coming back to check on us soon and if she sees this mess, my goose is more cooked than the one these feathers came from!"
The kids dutifully began to gather in the floating fluff, though it seemed that for every feather they captured, two more had escaped their grasp.
"Phew, I think that's most all off it," Debby grinned several arduous moments later, wiping a couple straggling pieces of down off her now sweat-glistened forehead. "We really could have used Jill's extra pair of hands, huh?"
Janet perked her ears. They knew?
"Yeah, that's for sure," Liz agreed. "Too bad, like she told us, she had to baby-sit tonight so she couldn't make it."
"Yeah," Debby and Kate nodded in unison.
Janet listened, gulping as she thought, Jill didn't tell them the real reason why she couldn't make it. Obviously, she's too embarrassed.
Suddenly it occurred to Janet that if she had said the gossip she'd planned to say, Jill would have been doubly shamed - both for what happened with her report card and for trying to cover it up.
Janet blinked as a straggling feather floated in front of her face. Wow, it had sure been hard to catch those feathers and stuff them back into her pillow. But that was nothing, she thought, next to how impossible it would have been to try and stuff hurtful and embarrassing words of gossip back into her mouth - word which, at the moment, she was super-glad had never left it.
Q. How did Janet feel at first about gossiping about her friend?
A. She'd felt it was okay and interesting thing to do.
Q. How did she feel in the end?
A. She realized how much it would have hurt and embarrassed her.
Q. What life-lesson do you think Janet learned that evening?
A. Up until then she'd considered gossiping to be a kind of harmless fun. But when it hit her how much the gossip would have shamed her friend, she saw gossip for the hurtful thing it really was.
Q. Does the fact that a piece of gossip is true make it okay to say?
A. Not at all. Anything negative about others - true or not - just shouldn't be said.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Our sages teach that gossip harms not only the one spoken about, but also the speaker and listeners. How do you think that could be?
A. Whether we're aware of it or not, gossip is a form of cruelty and conditions those who say it - and those who listen without objection - to become crueler people, and there's no greater spiritual harm than that.
Q. Since Jill had told the other girls she was invited to the sleepover and had made up an excuse why she couldn't come, didn't she deserve to be gossiped about?
A. While maybe it wasn't the smartest move on Jill's part, it still doesn't justify raking her through the coals of gossip.