In our progress through the Torah, the mishkan has finally been built as specified, the priests have been anointed and purified with offerings made before the Lord, and offerings have been made for the people, again pursuant to the specific instructions as conveyed by Moses. When this was done, “the glory of the Lord was revealed to all the people. And from before the Lord, fire came forth.  It consumed the burnt offering  and the fat pieces on the altar, and all the people saw it, and cried out for joy, and threw themselves facedown upon the ground.” Leviticus 9:23-24. Nadav and Avhiu then discovered that offering strange fire to the Lord outside of the specific instructions given to them was deadly, and they too were consumed. Lev 10:1-3.

We then learn the basic laws of what the Lord considers clean and unclean.

Which brings us now to a puzzling discussion of skin diseases  or Tzara’at (צרעת),  which is sometimes translated as “blight” or “leprosy” or “affliction” and is discussed at length in Leviticus 13-14,  When one thinks about it, our skin not only protects, but is also one of the ways the body rids itself of impurities, and thus clean itself.  But why would the Torah go into such detail about bumps and rashes and sores, requiring the afflicted person to go before the priest to be found clean or unclean? If the person is ultimately determined to be unclean, then he or she is banished from the camp unless or until they are cleansed.  But why to a priest?  Is the priest also a doctor?

Many of the sages suggest that these external manifestations discussed in the Torah may actually be a sign of a moral issue. This would be supported by various other passages. See e.g., discussion at  https://www.lehigh.edu/~gdb0/simcha/tzaraat.htm.

Perhaps the most well known story in the Torah concerning sin resulting in a manifestation of a skin disease is Numbers 12, where Miriam was afflicted, after she and Aharon had spoken against Moses for having a Kushite wife (probably black and a goy!), and also stated that the Lord did not speak only through Moses. The Lord was extremely angry on Moses’ behalf. Aaron then pleaded to Moses not to hold their sin against them. After Moses asked the Lord to heal her, the Lord did so, but only after excluding Miriam from the camp for 7 days.

But, you might argue, what Miriam and Aharon said was totally true – Moses DID marry a Kushite woman.  And the Lord did periodically speak through Aharon. So  what was Miriam and Aharon’s sin?

It is often described as “Lashon hara – evil tongue”. Gossip.

Let’s re-examine how we interpret the commandment:  “Do not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Exodus 20:13.

It appears that is not sufficient for a statement to be factually true.  Rather if the statement is incomplete and leaves out other important facts, or if the statement puts the person in a false light, or is stated to demean the person, then it is a false witness that violates the commandment.  Any time a statement makes the listener think less of the person, is better left unsaid. How often have each of us been guilty of this?

Okay, so we need to be careful when we speak about others.

But there is, for me, another huge concern beyond making sure what I say about someone is simply true. And that is this:

Because God created man in His own image, He has given man the ability to be a co-creator with Him.  In fact, we are the connection between the heavens and the earth, and we have the task of establishing what has already been created in heaven, here on this earth.  So then, if I say something about someone else which may not be true, or may be a “half truth”, or even if technically true, is not what that person really is or wants to be, am I making it harder for them?  Am I creating a bad future for that person or limiting their ability to move into the future that God would want?

Or would it be better for me and them, if I only voice the positive – what that person has done well, or what he or she can be? What is it that God wants for that person? If I don’t know, I had better be silent.