This week’s Torah portion (Tazriyah-Metzorah), discusses the disease Tzarat, a punishment for slander. Part of the purification process requires two birds, one sacrificial and the other set free. Rashi elucidates that birds are specifically brought because their chirping represents our negative speech. Rav Eliyahu Schlesinger takes it a step further and emphasizes that one bird is set free to convey that not only do we have to eliminate our negative speech, but we have to go out and use the power of speech for good.
The temptation and consequences
Gossip is enticing and pervasive in our society. Studies show that up to 90% of our conversations involve gossip and celebrity gossip is a 3 billion dollar industry. We all know that gossip could destroy relationships, decrease morale, hurt the targeted individual’s chances of earning a job or promotion and weaken their overall mental health. However, the research also shows that as the frequency and negativity of gossip increases, other’s perception of the gossiper worsens and the gossiper himself has lower self-esteem.
How to overcome the desire
It is very difficult to break the habit of gossip and even sincere people often fail. This difficulty is compounded when those around you are slandering. However, by committing to change how you view people and the tone of your conversations, you can succeed. Through practice, you can teach yourself to view other’s positively and give them the benefit of the doubt. Play a game brainstorming positive explanations for something you would have previously gossiped about. Change your go-to conversations from being about other people to being about lofty ideas. As Eleanor Rosevelt said, “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” Let’s use the lessons from this week’s Torah portion to elevate our speech, character, and the way we are viewed by others.