Measuring Our WordsApril 2, 2014 - 5:00 am
“The priest is to order the house to be emptied before he goes in to examine the mold, so that nothing in the house will be pronounced unclean. After this the priest is to go in and inspect the house.” — Leviticus 14:36
The Torah portion for this week is Metzora, which means “diseased,” from Leviticus 14:1–15:33, and the Haftorah is from 2 Kings 7:3–20.
Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan was a renowned rabbi in the nineteenth century who became famous for his focus on proper speech. A story is told about a time when the rabbi went to the home of a wealthy businessman in order to raise funds for his school. When the rabbi arrived, the man was in the middle of writing a telegram. The two began conversing, and at one point, the rabbi could tell that the conversation was about to turn toward gossip.
To change the subject, the rabbi looked at the telegram and remarked, “It looks as if you have carefully thought out every single word here, for you’ve rewritten this telegram several times.” The businessman replied, “I certainly have. Every unnecessary word here will cost me extra money.” The rabbi was stunned at this and noted, “If only everyone was so careful when choosing what should come out of their mouths! Don’t they realize that every unnecessary word will cost them dearly?”
In the Torah portion, in context of learning the laws of the house with a “defiling mold,” we are taught that when the priest came to examine the mold, he would order everything to be brought out of the house before he began his inspection. Why? Because if the house was declared “unclean” by the priest, then according to law, everything inside the home would be considered “unclean,” as well, and would need to be destroyed. By taking all the possessions out of the house first, it protected those items and allowed the owner to keep them without any problems.
The Sages comment that this particular process was part of healing for the homeowner. The most common cause for this particular affliction was the sin of lashon hara, “a bad tongue,” which included any inappropriate speech. The homeowner who was guilty of not taking his or her speech seriously would experience just how powerful even one unkind or inappropriate word could be. If the priest declared the house “clean,” then everything could go back to normal. If he declared it “unclean,” the whole house and anything still in it would be destroyed.
One word — huge consequences.
Measuring our words doesn’t come naturally to us. We are so accustomed to speaking freely — we have “freedom of speech” after all! However, let’s also exercise our freedom to control what comes out of our mouths. Try it for one hour of every day. Be extra careful about every word you say. As you raise your awareness, you will also raise the quality of your speech. And as you raise the quality of your speech, you may just raise the quality of your life.