“The priest is to examine it, and if it appears to be more than skin deep and the hair in it has turned white, the priest shall pronounce that person unclean. It is a defiling skin disease that has broken out where the boil was.” — Leviticus 13:20
The Torah portion for this week is Tazria, which means, “to conceive,” from Leviticus 12:1–13:59, and the Haftorah is from 2 Kings 4:42–5:19.
Abracadabra is probably one of the most well-known incantations, or magic word. What child hasn’t picked up a stick or a pretend wand and waved it while saying that word? But how did abracadabra become associated with magic in the first place? Many historians believe that it stems from two Hebrew words, abra kdabra, meaning “I will create as I speak.” Abracadabra expresses the idea that words create. According to Judaism, that’s not just child’s play!
In this week’s Torah portion, we are introduced to the biblical disease, tzara’at, often referred to as leprosy. It was a physical disease with spiritual roots, and the Bible dictated that a priest, not a doctor, be brought in to assess the ailment and prescribe treatment. So what is the spiritual malady that caused such a disease?
According to the Talmud, Judaism’s oral tradition, tzara’at was the result of lashon hara, speaking badly. The most common type of lashon hara is slander or gossip, but the term literally means “a bad tongue” and includes any kind of negative speech that inflicts harm on others or draws negativity into the world.
When a person spoke badly about another, it was as though that individual was withdrawing God’s positive life-force from the world. So it was quite fitting that that person was afflicted with the opposite of life – disease, which can lead to death. The area afflicted with tzara’at was white, devoid of any color, as though all of the life had drained from that area. It would take minimally a week of isolation where the afflicted could not spread any deadly venomous words to anyone and for health to return. By that time, the expectation is that the afflicted would have thought about his or her poisonous words and repented.
The good news is that if bad words can create suffering, then good words can create blessings. When God created the world, He spoke it into existence. He didn’t just think about it; He spoke about it and it appeared. We can create good things in our lives as well with the power of our words. When we use our words to encourage others, we create more positive people. When we tell ourselves how good we are, we become better people. When we speak kind, life-enforcing words wherever we go, we bring abundant blessings into the world.
That’s where the real magic is found.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President