Slander & Skin Disease

The Bible (Leviticus ch. 13-14) speaks of a disease called tzara'as which is translated as "leprosy." What causes this exactly?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

This was an affliction signaling a spiritual illness. People got tzara'as if they spoke slander.

Under U.S. law, you're not guilty of libel if you told the truth. But unless there is a practical need, the Bible prohibits derogatory speech about other people even if it's true. (If you were asked to provide a job reference, that would be an example of practical need – you would be permitted to tell the truth, even if it weren't pretty.)

Casual slander of other people fills our lives and conversations. (Imagine blogs and Facebook without gossip.)

We damage people by speaking ill of them, but the greatest victim of slander is the speaker. If you habitually focus on other people's faults and failings, it fills your life with poison.

One of the medieval Jewish ethicist records the following incident.

Two men were walking together on the road when they passed the carcass of a dog.

"How terrible that dead dog smells," one of them says.

"Yes," says the other, "but it has lovely white teeth."

Why fill your conversation with criticism and complaints? Look for the good, and speak of that instead. You'll be happier.

Life isn't lived alone; it's lived with others. If through slander we destroy our community's atmosphere of trust, we destroy our own ability to live fully. If you got tzara'as, you learned that when you speak slander, the life you destroy is your own.

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