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Tazria (Leviticus 12-13 )

by Rabbi Jared Viders

Ten years ago I had the rare experience of davening Mincha in Congregation Ohav Shalom in Manhattan's Upper West Side. At the end several people recited the Mourner's Kaddish - among them, a young man who appeared to be in his late 20's, wearing blue jeans and sporting a baseball cap.

In a sincere effort to convey some sort of impromptu empathy, I approached him outside of shul and struck up some casual conversation as we walked up the city block. "Nice to meet you. Are you from around here?" etc. etc. Having "broken the ice" so-to-speak, I (respectfully) inquired for whom he was saying Kaddish.

The young man responded that he was Kaddish for his father who had recently passed away.

As we continued up the block together, he reciprocated the standard line of inquiries, "So, how about you... Are you from around here?"

"No," I responded, "I'm visiting from Monsey."

"So," he asked, "what brings you to the City?"

"My father's birthday," I mindlessly responded before immediately realizing the insensitivity of that response and looking for the nearest manhole to crawl into.

Of all the idiotic things to say! I could have said I was in for a family get-together. Visiting my brother. Taking in Central Park. Missing that Gotham mystique. A sale at Macy's. Anything but my father's birthday!

How careful and sensitive and deliberate we must be with our speech lest we offend, insult, antagonize or negatively impact upon those with whom we are conversing.

* * *

"And the person with tzara'as in whom there is the affliction - his garments shall be rent, the hair of his head shall go loose, and he must cover his head down to his lips ..." Rashi: "like a mourner." (Vayikra: 13:45)

The Torah is unusually detailed in its discussion of tzara'as and the purification therefrom. This week's portion (and the next) elaborates about the nitty-gritty details of the entire tzara'as phenomenon.

What is this notion, however, of the afflicted person conducting himself "like a mourner" -- a practice we don't find in conjunction with any other misconduct?

Perhaps the explanation stems from the fact that the root cause of tzara'as is often attributable to one's improper and harmful speech. Where in the universe of Torah practices and interpersonal relationships are we most attuned to speaking with deliberation? When we pay a shiva call and endeavor to console a mourner. We refrain from speaking to the mourner until being spoken to. We wait to hear where s/he is coming from. We don't joke around. We don't engage in chit-chat. The Yankees aren't the topic of discussion. Nor is the NASDAQ. We often leave the talking to others more adept at conveying sincere empathy with their words. If we have a vignette to share or a thought to express we think it through before doing so. Even then it invariably seems awkward and misplaced.

I have heard that the most "comforting" visitors were often by those who had the least to say. On the flip side, it has also been noted that those who purported to "know exactly what you're going through" really didn't have the foggiest notion at all.

Thus, part and parcel of the metzora's rehabilitation is the "training" he can glean from the deliberate, measured speech of the mourner's world. A milieu where silence is golden. An atmosphere where one's words are chosen with thoughtfulness. The realm where we take to heart the words of Eccleiastes, "Be not rash with your mouth, and let not your heart be hasty to utter a word before God let your words be few."

May we merit to select our words in a means that will only brighten our world and the lives of others and not, God forbid, with the insensitivity that often (even inadvertently) can be so detrimental.

Good Shabbos.

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