A Disease like No Other

The rabbis of the Talmud equate leprosy with a punishment for lashon hara, or evil, slanderous speech. The treatment of the leper involves him being isolated from the community, and this is seen as a punishment for his antisocial behavior. It makes sense. But there is a type of leprosy which is sometimes overlooked.

Clothing, specifically clothing of leather, wool, or linen, can also become infected with a plague. Now on a scientific level, this makes sense. This special type of leprosy is highly contagious, and the leper may have left the spores to grow in his clothing.

But an interesting question can lead to a fascinating discovery. The question, asked by Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin, is why just three types of clothing? There are other materials out there as well! He answers that these three types of clothing can be found in the chapter of Genesis. Adam and Eve were given leather clothing by God after they ate from the tree of knowledge. Abel wore clothing made from the linen that he had grown. Cain were clothing made from wool, taken from his flocks.

Based on Rabbi Sorotzkin's connection of the leprosy disease to the origins of mankind, we can gain new insight into this remarkable phenomenon. What was accomplished when Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge? Firstly, they became aware of their nakedness. How so?

The tree of knowledge could also have been called the tree of judgment. The snake enticed them by promising that they will be like "gods," or "judges," who can tell the difference between good and evil. And that, more or less, is what happened. They became judgmental. Once they were aware of good and evil, of better and worse, they started to look critically at each other. Hence, their nakedness became an issue. This horizontal focus lead in a direct line to Cain slaying his brother.

The one who slanders or speaks ill of another human being has justified their doing so by judging the other person. If the other person doesn't measure up, they feel they may speak against them. This unique disease is not merely a punishment, it is an outward manifestation of its root cause, viewing other people as "lepers."

A Talmudic Sage described his clothing as being his "honorers." Indeed, we wear clothing to protect our privacy, and to project our worth. Adam and Eve became aware that, just as they were judging each other, they were being judged by the other. Hence, the need to cover their own nakedness. The slanderer and the talebearer impugn the honor, the clothing, if you will, of the one whom they are attacking. They are seeking to remove their clothing, so to speak. As a result, their sin becomes manifest on their own clothing.

The moral of the story? The first step on the road to evil speech is judging our fellows. The Torah explicitly tells us to judge each other favorably, if we must judge at all. Lashon Hara is not just a sin of the mouth, it starts in the heart and mind. For this, some rose-colored glasses might not be a bad idea information