“The priest shall order that two live clean birds and some cedar wood, scarlet yarn and hyssop be brought for the person to be cleansed.”— Leviticus 14:4
The Torah portion for this week is Metzora, which means “diseased,” from Leviticus 14:1–15:33, and the Haftorah is from 2 Kings 7:3–20.
Mother Teresa once said that every word that doesn’t increase the light of God contributes to the darkness. People are so concerned about what they put into their mouths; if only we were as careful with what comes out.
In this week’s Torah portion, we learn about the purification process for the individual who had been afflicted with a defiling skin disease. One of the stages involved bringing two birds to the priest. One bird was to be slaughtered, and the other bird was part of a ritual and ultimately set free. The Sages explain that birds were specifically chosen for this purification ritual because they are creatures that constantly chirp and chatter. According to Jewish tradition, the sin of the afflicted person is inappropriate speech and so the birds were seen as fitting symbols for the sin at hand.
While this explanation makes sense, there are still two questions that can’t be ignored. Firstly, why use two birds? Secondly, if we are symbolically getting rid of inappropriate chatter, why set the second bird free?
The Sages explain that if the process involved only one bird that was sacrificed we may mistakenly think that all chatter and speech should be banished from our lives. The second bird teaches us that speech is not the problem. In fact, our ability to speak is one of our greatest virtues! It’s how we use our words that matters. The bird that was sacrificed represented bad speech. The second bird symbolized all the wonderful things that can be done with our words. That bird was set free to chatter away happily.
Consider these 10 ways that we can use the power of speech for good:
- Pray. Praise God, thank Him, and ask for your needs.
- Share God’s Word with family, friends, and neighbors.
- Say “I love you,” or let someone know you care.
- Say “I’m sorry,”’ or give someone the gift of forgiveness.
- Ask someone, “How are you?” and mean it.
- Give someone encouragement. It may make all the difference in their world.
- Give someone a compliment. It may just change their day.
- Say “Thank you!” as often as you can.
- Say a blessing – on the food you eat or to the people you meet.
- Say “Amen!” This one word gives more power to all other words.
If we focus on the great things that we can say – and should say – every day, we’ll be so busy saying positive words that we won’t even have time for gossip or other negative words.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President