Humankind is created with the gift of speech and communication. How we use this gift can directly impact perception of ourselves, others and our world. This lesson is conveyed in parshat Tazria-Metzora and in daily tefilla.
The skin disease known as tzara’at is associated with lashon ha’ra (evil speech) in Torah: When Miriam speaks badly about her brother Moshe, she gets leprosy. When Moshe’s hand becomes leprous, Rashi explains that this is because he spoke badly about Bnei Yisrael. Similarly, the name parshat “Me-tzo-ra” is linked by the midrash to the phrase “motzi-shem-ra,” spreading evil rumors. Just as the disease spreads across the body, critical and hurtful language spreads negativity and discord, and it can have disastrous consequences.
Using our mouths responsibly is a value expressed in tefillah too. The Amidah prayer closes with the request “Hashem, protect my tongue from bad”. But speech isn’t only about avoiding the negative. The Amidah also opens with the request: אֲדֹנָי שְׂפָתַי תִּפְתָּח וּפִי יַגִּיד תְּהִלָּתֶֽךָ – “Adonai, open my lips, and let my mouth declare Your praise.” Our prayers are a combination of praise, thanks, and requests for the wellbeing of ourselves, the Jewish people and the world. The focus on speech at the opening and closing of the Amidah is a reminder that in addition to avoiding bad speech and its consequences, using positive language spreads goodness and optimism. Appropriately, the source of the opening verse of the Amidah is Psalm 51, in which King David displays great humility and repentance through his speech. He admits his sins and prays for forgiveness.
This emphasis on positive words is also seen in tefillat Yom Ha’atzmaut which also cites Tehillim, “Give thanks to God,” and “This is the day that the LORD has made, let us exult and rejoice on it.” This year in particular, amidst all the concern and disagreement, let’s focus on the praise, on speaking about the good in each other and in this precious country, our home. Shabbat Shalom, Chodesh tov and Yom Ha’atzmaut Sameach!! – Karen Miller Jackson
*photo Ben Gurion Declaration of Independence from https://main.knesset.gov.il/en/about/pages/declaration.aspx