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Parsha Metzorah

04/11/2019 08:01:38 PM


The Parsha discusses the procedure of the purification/atonement for the metzorah afflicted with tzar’as, and as the Peskukim describe, the process involves taking two birds, one to send away and one to slaughter and mix with water.  In the sugya in Eruchin 16 regarding Lashon Hara, the Gemara explains the reason that birds relate to the Metzorah is because the gossip spoken by the metzorah resembles the incessant chatter of birds.  Parallel to this theme, the Gemara also notes that the Meil worn by the Kohen Gadol atoned for the sin of lashon hara, because the continuous ringing emitted by the bells on the bottom of the cloak correspond to the sounds of lashon hara.  However, the Gemara presents a contradiction to this idea of lashon hara being associated with sounds, as we find elsewhere that the Kitores/incense brought by the Kohen Gadol inside the Kodesh Kodshim on Yom Kippur also atones for gossip, because the whispered sounds of the kitores burning on coals relate to the hushed sounds of gossiping.  What better portrays the nature of gossip- heard noises that are represented by birds and bells, or whispers represented by the kitores?  The Gemara answers that there are two types of gossip, gossip told in private and gossip told in public, and the birds and bells atone for gossip spoken noisily in public while the kitores atones for privately whispered gossip.   

However, upon further analysis, it seems hard to accept this distinction of public/private gossip at face value.  As the Gemara in Yoma says, the source that Kitores atones for lashon hara is the story with Moshe and Aron in Parshas Korach in the aftermath of Korach’s rebellion, when the people were punished with plague after criticizing Moshe and Aron for the deaths of Korach and his followers.  In order to stop the plague, Aron was told to burn Kitores, and this would somehow atone for the people’s sin of criticizing Moshe and Aron.  Based on this, the Gemara arrives at the conclusion that kitores atones for lahson hara.  But what type of gossip was that lashon hara?  A cursory read of the Pesukim in Korach ostensibly suggests that it was public gossip, as the Pasuk says that the whole nation complained to Moshe and Aron saying: “You have killed the people of God,” implying that this was vociferous criticism.  If the Gemara in Eruchin qualifies the kitores representation to quiet and private gossip, how can it be that the Gemara in Yoma uses this story in Korach as the very basis of kitores atoning for gossip? 

It seems that the distinction between private and public gossip cannot be understood literally to depend on decibel levels and crowds, but rather to the nature and content of the gossip itself.  “Public gossip” is when the criticism is blatantly explicit and public in the sense that it is unambiguous, while “private gossip” is insinuated gossip that is implied but not directly stated, and private in the sense that the gossip itself is hidden behind doors of other interpretations.  When the Torah says that the people complained to Moshe and Aron, saying: “You have killed the people of God,” many commentators explain that this was not a direct quote of the dialogue, and that the choppy reading of the Pasuk, “and they complained, saying, “You have killed the people of God,” indicates that these were not their actual words.  They really made an ambiguous comment that suggested that they felt Moshe and Aron were responsible for the deaths of Korach, and the Torah writes their complaints based on the feelings in their hearts.  One reads the Pasuk that they people complained to Moshe and Aron in ambiguous terms, but what they were really saying behind their comments was that they felt their leaders were culpable for Korach’s death.  If we accept this interpretation, then it fits beautifully that the kitores stopped the ensuing plague, because this was a classic sense of “private gossip” where the criticism is covered and hushed, and even if the words were screamed, the bad in the words was private. 

There is a Gemara in Baba Basra 165 that applies nicely to these two types of Lashon Hara.  Counting three sins that everyone in guilty of, the Gemara lists gossip as a ubiquitous sin.  The Gemara asks that it is simply untrue that everyone is guilty of gossip, and the Gemara responds that the text should be amended to “Avak Lashon Hara.”  The term “avak lashon hara” is greatly disputed amongst the Rishonim, but all agree that it is some form of ambiguous gossip that is not directly stated, and this form of gossip is something the gemara finds everyone guilty of.  By applying this Gemara to the discussion, perhaps it can be said that the distinction between “public gossip” and “private gossip” in the Gemara in Eruchin is really the same distinction between regular gossip and “avak lashon hara” of this Gemara in Baba Basra.  Tza’ras does not come for the “avak lashon hara” that everyone is guilty of, but rather for the “public lashon hara” that is represented in his birds’ chatter.  Everyone’s “avak lashon hara” is atoned for by the kitores of the Kohen Gadol, whose hushed sounds correspond to the private nature of avak lashon hara.   


Thu, June 20 2024 14 Sivan 5784