Insights In Rashi - The Two Birds
Vayikra, 14:2-4: This shall be the law of the metsora on the day of his purification: He shall be brought to the Kohen. The Kohen shall go to the outside of the camp; the Kohen shall look and behold, the tzoraas affliction had been healed from the metsora. The Kohen shall command; and for the person bring purified there shall be taken two live, pure birds, cedar wood, crimson thread, and hyssop ... and the one bird shall be slaughtered... As for the live bird, he shall take it with the cedar wood and the crimson thread and the hyssop, and he shall dip them and the live bird into the blood of the bird that was slaughtered over the spring water. Then he shall sprinkle seven times upon the time person being purified from the tzoraas; he shall purify him, and he shall set the live bird free upon the open field.
Rashi 14:4, sv.: Pure... Because negaim come because of lashon hara, which is an deed of chatter, therefore it was necessary for his purification [that he offer] two birds who constantly chatter by chirping."
The Torah discusses the affliction of tzoraas that comes about as a punishment for lashon hara (negative speech) and the subsequent process required for its purification. One of the stages is the requirement to bring two birds; to slaughter one and to undergo a process with another one and ultimately release him alive. Rashi, based on the Gemara in Arachin, teaches us the symbolism of the use of birds; (1) the sin of lashon hara comes as a result of chatter - birds chatter and therefore the offerings relating to them is symbolic of the chatter that results in lashon hara. Rav Shlomo Ganzfried (2) asks a number of questions on this process. Firstly, why was it necessary that two birds be involved, why was one insufficient? Furthermore, why was one killed and the other left alive?(3)
He answers by elaborating on the symbolism of the birds. The bird that is killed corresponds to the kind of speech that involves lashon hara. However, if only this single bird was offered then one may come to believe that the only way of avoiding lashon hara is not speaking at all. Thus the Torah tells us that there is a second bird that should be left alive; this corresponds to positive forms of speech such as Divrei Torah. This speech is not only acceptable but life-giving. He proves this with a verse from Mishlei: "Death and life are in the hands of speech." (4) Torah is called an eitz Chayim, tree of life, therefore we see that positive speech such as Torah is life-giving.
We learn from Rav Ganzfried that silence is not the solution to avoid speaking lashon hara. Indeed it is said that the Chofetz Chaim zt"l was a talkative person; what did he talk about? Torah and mitzvot observance. Whilst it is difficult to fully emulate his level of pure speech, there is a vital lesson that we can learn from Rav Ganzfried's words and the Chofetz Chaim's example. There are forms of speech that do not constitute outright lashon hara but they often ultimately result in lashon hara or at least avak lashon hara.(5) Perhaps the most obvious example of this is talking about other people: In the course of conversations it is very common for other people's names to arise and, without any outright negative intentions, it is very common that lashon hara arises soon after.(6) In this vein, one Rav was asked how he avoids speaking lashon hara. He answered that he strives to never speak about other people.(7) This may be difficult thing to fully accomplish but as in all areas of self-growth one can take small steps to improve in this area. And we learn from Rav Ganzfried that simply shutting one's mouth completely is not the ideal way to improve. Rather one should strive to raise the level of the content of their speech. This doesn't only mean speaking words of Torah - there are many other areas that can be discussed that have constructive purposes. The main point is to strive to replace gossip about other people with more positive forms of speech.
We learn from the atonement process for tzoraas that being silent is not the ideal; rather the goal is to replace speech that can lead to lashon hara and distance ourselves from God, with speech that brings us close to Him.
1. Arachin, 16b.
2. Author of Kitsur Shulchan Aruch; this source is from his work on Hashkfa, Apiriyon.
3. See there for his additional questions: Tallelei Oros, Vayikra Aleph, pp. 282-283.
4. Mishlei (Proverbs), 18:21.
5. A Rabbinic form of forbidden speech.
6. A connected problem is discussion about 'politics' which often leads to outright lashon hara. In this essay we are mainly discussing talking about people that we know.
7. Presumably he was not referring to constructive speech about others, rather meaningless gossip.