Spreading Untruths is Motzi Ra

This week’s parashah M’tzora is one that most people would like to skip. It’s all about purity and impurity, sickness and disease. Certainly not ideal, if it happens to be the parashah you get for your Bar or Bat Mitzvah.  But instead of ignoring it, some rabbis suggest the name of the parashah is a play on words. Instead of m’tzora or ‘one who is diseased’, they read it as motzi ra, ‘one who spreads evil’. For these rabbis, the worst disease plaguing our Jewish community and, by extension, the world in general, is the plague of gossip, spreading malicious lies.

 

The Da’at HaZekenim or the Opinions of the Elders (found in the Tosafot – additions or glosses to the Talmud) refer to Solomon in Proverbs 18, 21, when he says: mot v’chayim b’yad lashon - “death and life are in the hands of the tongue.” Death is liable to follow abuse of the power of speech, they say, whereas life is at the disposal of people who meticulously observe the Torah and study it. The guilt of ‘evil gossip’ - lashon hara, is considered greater than that of being guilty of shedding innocent blood.

For us, the words of our tongue are often literally ‘in our hands’. Our lashon hara, does not always come from our mouth – it comes from keyboards, the media, the people who control the words that are spoken and spread.

We are confronted with this every day in our newsfeeds and on social media. But it’s not new. In the old days when there were printed newspapers they used to say that certain ‘tabloids’ didn’t ever let the truth stand in the way of a good story, no matter how misleading and often personally damaging it may have been. And in recent weeks we have been faced with the gross manipulation of truth in an effort to mislead entire populations. A whole nation has been led to believe that Ukrainian neo-Nazis had to be stopped from committing genocide against the Russian people in Ukraine. News is manipulated on a daily basis, information screened, the truth made thinner and thinner until it snaps and disappears.

The manipulation of information and the spreading of untruths is motzi ra, for our rabbis the worst disease imaginable, a plague of plagues, a plague that kills just as mercilessly as any biological disease our scourge.

We are challenged by our tradition to speak the truth without fear, and above all speak the truth to power.

Brian Doyle-Du Breuil

IJC Rabbi