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Tazria-Metzora: Lashon Hara Cannot be Taken Back!

וצוה הכהן ולקח למטהר שתי צפרים חיות טהורות ועץ ארץ ושני תולעת ואזוב. וצוה הכהן ושחט את הצפור האחת אל כלי חרש על מים חיים. את הצפור החיה יקח אותה ואת עץ הארז ואת שני התולעת ואת האזוב וטבל אותם ואת הצפור החיה בדם הצפור השחוטה על המים החיים וגו' על פני השדה.

“And the Kohen should command, and it shall be brought for the person being purified: two live kosher birds, and a piece of cedar wood, and a coccus thread and eizav grass. And the Kohen should command, and he shall slaughter one bird in an earthenware vessel containing spring water. He shall take the live bird with the cedar wood, the coccus thread and the eizav grass and dip them with the live bird into the blood of the slaughtered bird that was combined with the spring water… and the live bird shall be set free in the field.” (Vayikra 14)

These verses describe the procedure that was performed when a person who was struck by tz’raas – leprosy, came to purify himself after he was cured. The commentators tell us that the reason for taking a bird was to remind the metzora that he spoke ill of his friend like a chirping bird, and this was the cause of his leprosy.

Why was he required to bring two birds? One of them was not even used in the procedure, except for being dipped in the blood of the slaughtered bird. There were other things being dipped in the blood, so why was this extra bird important? After the procedure was completed, the bird was set free in the field, so why was it taken in the first place?

The Gemara says (Eirchin 15b) that tshuva erases all sins, but when it comes to the sin of lashon hara, speaking ill of a fellow person, the sin cannot be corrected. “Ein lo tekana – there is no remedy for him,” is the Gemara’s expression. Why indeed is it so difficult to do tshuva on the grave sin of speaking lashon hara?

There is a famous story about a person who came to the tzaddik the Ohev Yisroel zt”l and poured out his heart that he was unfortunately negligent about guarding his speech. “I spoke lashon hara and even spread false rumors about others,” he cried with remorse. “How can I repent for my sins?” The Ohev Yisroel instructed him to take several down pillows and quilts and tear open the casing while standing outside in the field. The person did what the Rebbe told him to do, and the feathers all flew away in the wind. Upon returning to the Rebbe, the Ohev Yisroel told him to gather all the feathers.

“But that’s impossible!” he protested. “The wind blew them all away!”

“You’re asking how to do tshuva on lashon hara,” the Rebbe sighed. “The words you’ve said already flew around the entire world. The people who heard it from you spread it further, and there is no way to take it back!”

This is why the Gemara says that there is no correction for lashon hara. Even if a person were to tell the people he spoke to that his words were untrue or invalid, he may be too late to stop the spread of his evil words. Those who heard him may have passed it on to others, and it is impossible to take it all back.

Is there indeed no hope for someone who spoke lashon hara? The Rebbe zt”l points out that the Gemara says: Ein lo tekana – there is no correction for “him.” Although the person himself is certainly powerless to correct his sin, Hashem can certainly help him! The person should pray to Hashem with a sincerely broken heart that He shall cause others to forget his evil words.

It says in Koheles (10:20): “For the bird of the heavens carries the sound.” This is why the metzora was required to take two birds. One bird symbolized the spreading of the evil words. This bird was slaughtered to demonstrate that there is no correction for this sin. The other bird was dipped in the slaughtered bird’s blood to indicate that the speaker of lashon hara “dips his hands” into another person’s blood. Those who speak ill of others are playing with another person’s life, and may destroy the subject of their evil words. The bird is then set free to give hope to the baal tshuva that with proper repentance, Hashem will cause his evil words to be forgotten, just as the freed bird disappears from sight.

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