This week’s double Torah portion, Tazria/Metzora discusses Tzaraas, a skin affliction brought on because of a series of flaws in one’s character, in particular that of Loshon Hara, gossip.
The Torah describes the appearance of Tzaraas as “deeper than the skin”. The commentaries teach us that aside from the literal understanding of the words describing the color tone of the tzaraas, the Torah is also teaching us an important lesson about the message that the Tzaras is giving, an aspect of “measure for measure” for the flaw of character that the Tzaras is atoning for.
I once heard a great Rosh Yeshiva speak about his mother. He said that she never ever spoke a word of gossip. He once asked her how it is possible to never utter a bad word about someone else. To which she simply replied, “what is there bad to say about another person already?”
She didn’t need to specifically work on “not gossiping”. Her personality was one that didn’t see the bad so there was nothing to say. She genuinely saw the positive in other people at any point in time.
There are many ways to work on Loshon Hara. I once heard of a recommended practice to take one hour a day where you constantly remind yourself not to speak gossip. But we all know the best way to uproot a bad trait is to deal with it at its source.
When the Torah says that the Tzaras is “deeper than the skin,” the Torah is teaching you how to understand the message of the Tzaras. If you are gossiping, complaining, or getting all worked up about another, what is really going on? There is something deeper? Is it jealousy? Is it ego? Lack of self-esteem? Inferiority complex.
The golden rule of “love your fellow like yourself” teaches us that we can’t expect to treat others better than we relate ourselves. If we are lacking fulfillment, if we are feel insecure, if we feel like we aren’t living up to our potential than we get caught in the trap of jealousy, anger and frustration with others uncorking a wellspring of juicy gossip.
But if we feel fulfilled, if we feel like we are growing and are genuinely happy, than we are more likely to see the positive in other people and at that point “what is there bad to say about another person already?”