“Love Peace and Pursue Peace”March 25, 2014 - 5:00 am
“When anyone has a swelling or a rash or a shiny spot on their skin that may be a defiling skin disease, they must be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons who is a priest.” — Leviticus 13:2
The Torah portion for this week is Tazria, which means “to conceive,” from Leviticus 12:1–13:59, and the Haftorah is from 2 Kings 4:42–5:19.
In Leviticus 13:2 we learn that anyone who suspected that he or she might have a “defiling skin disease,” in Hebrew tzara’at, had to go before Aaron, the high priest, or one of his descendants. Now, the last time I thought that something was amiss physically, I went to a doctor. Why are the children of Israel commanded to go to a priest, specifically Aaron, or one of his sons, when experiencing a physical ailment?
The Sages teach that tzara’at wasn’t a physical disease like others. It was primarily a spiritual disease that had physical symptoms, which is why a spiritual healer was needed more than an expert in medicine. The main cause that brought about this spiritual/physical affliction was the sin of speaking badly about others. Whether a person engaged in gossip or slandered others with lies, the result was a tzara’at, or defiling skin disease.
The rabbis teach that a common excuse among those who gossip is “but it’s true.” We rationalize our actions by explaining that if something is true, then it’s OK to say it. We hide behind the notion that “others need to know the truth,” which may be appropriate in some cases, but isn’t usually the case when it comes to telling others about how unfairly Susan treated you yesterday or what you overheard Bill say about Gary at the coffee machine. So while we may think that we are doing others a favor by sharing the truth with them, in fact, we are doing a disservice by creating wedges between people and severing the bonds of humanity.
This is why the gossiper was sent to Aaron. According to Jewish tradition, Aaron was the champion of peace, even at the cost of truth. This is how Aaron would operate: As soon as he heard that two people had been quarrelling, he would go to each person and claim that the other was remorseful. He would exaggerate how badly each one felt and he would relay the good things said by one party about the other. This created the space for each side to meet and reconcile. Yes, Aaron compromised the truth, but for the sake of peace.
This, according to Judaism, is not only permissible, but advisable. Hillel the Elder used to say: “Be a student of Aaron: love peace and pursue peace.”
So if Aaron was able to sacrifice truth for peace, how much more should we stay away from compromising peace for the sake of truth. This week, let’s use our words to bring people together. Let us build bridges and help rectify old rifts. At the very least, let us be careful not to use our words to tear people apart. Love peace and pursue it!