The Secret to Avoiding Lashon Hara

V’tamei tamei yikra (Vayikra 13:45)

The Torah commands a metzora to dwell outside of the Jewish camp and to announce his impure status to others by calling out, “Tamei, tamei!” The Gemara in Moed Kattan (5a) explains that this is done for two reasons. When the metzora informs other people about his condition, they will pray that he should be healed quickly. Additionally, their awareness of his impure status will help them to avoid becoming defiled through contact with him.

In addition to the two rationales given by Chazal, Harav Zalman Sorotzkin suggests that this requirement also serves as an essential component of the metzora’s process of repentance and atonement for his sins.

The Gemara (Arachin 16a) teaches that one of the primary causes of tzaraas is speaking negatively about others. In other words, before this individual was stricken with tzaraas, whenever he would see another person approaching him, he would begin to discuss forbidden topics with him. Therefore, as part of his process of repentance, the Torah requires him to begin his conversation with every passerby with topics that are considered mitzvos, such as warning them to avoid his impurity and requesting them to pray on his behalf.

This reveals that he accepts that his condition comes from Hashem and is not arbitrary and coincidental, and it can only be cured through heartfelt prayer and soul-searching.

Rav Sorotzkin recounts that he heard from Harav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky that the Chofetz Chaim had a unique system to ensure that he would not be exposed to hearing forbidden lashon hara. Whenever somebody would approach him, he would immediately begin to discuss words of Torah and mussar with the individual until it was time for the conversation to end, and by actively filling the available time with the mitzvah of Torah study, a convenient side benefit was that there was no possibility of inappropriate gossip being shared.

Not surprisingly, it is reported that somebody staying at an inn in Europe was told that the illustrious Chofetz Chaim and Gerrer Rebbe were both passing through the inn. Excited to meet them and receive their blessings, the man scanned the dining room until he saw a table with two elderly Rabbanim. Unsure about which was the Chofetz Chaim and which was the Gerrer Rebbe, the man observed the two Rabbanim for a few minutes and noticed that one of them was dominating the conversation and doing almost all of the talking.

Knowing that the Chofetz Chaim was renowned for his concern about every word that came out of his mouth, he assumed that the Rav who was listening quietly must be the Chofetz Chaim and approached the table to greet him. To his surprise, the Rav replied that he was speaking to the wrong person, as the Chofetz Chaim was seated across the table.

The embarrassed man explained that he was sure that the Rav doing most of the talking couldn’t possibly be the Chofetz Chaim. The Chofetz Chaim responded that people mistakenly assume that in order to avoid sinning in the area of forbidden speech, the only option is to refrain from talking. In reality, somebody who is fluent in the pertinent laws will know what he is permitted to say and will have no problem finding permissible subjects to discuss.

Q: The Torah teaches (Vayikra 12:3) that a baby boy should be circumcised on the eighth day of his life. The Toras Kohanim adds that although the circumcision may be performed at any time during the day, it is preferable to perform the mitzvah with alacrity as early in the day as possible. If there are two circumcisions to be performed, one on an eight-day-old boy and one on an older baby, which one should be done first?

Q: The Torah requires (13:45–46) a metzora to dwell outside the Jewish camp and to call out, “Tamei, tamei!” Rashi explains that he does so in order to inform other people that he is impure so that they will avoid contact with him. Are those who have other forms of impurity also supposed to announce their status to protect others from contacting them?

A: The Shu’t Bris Avraham rules that the circumcision of the eight-day-old boy takes precedence. He cites the law that somebody who is unable to pray must recite the next prayer service twice, with the first time counting for his current prayer obligation and the second time as compensation for the missed prayer. He argues that the mitzvah being performed in its proper time should similarly be done first.

However, the Dvar Avraham maintains that the delayed circumcision is more stringent and should therefore be performed first. He explains that a person is considered to be neglecting the fulfillment of a positive commandment every moment after the eighth day that he doesn’t circumcise himself, a concern that doesn’t yet apply to the child, who is still only eight days old. However, a number of the commentators cited above point out that the Rambam (Hilchos Milah 1:8) seems to imply that even after the eighth day has passed, there is no additional problem other than the general concern to perform mitzvos with alacrity. Since this principle applies equally to the eight-day-old boy, his circumcision should be done first.

A: From the twofold repetition of the word “tamei,” the Toras Kohanim derives that this requirement of publicizing his status to warn others against contact with him applies not only to a metzora, but to anybody who is impure and could render others impure through contact. This obligation is legally codified by the Rambam. The Malbim adds that this teaching is also alluded to by the fact that the cantillation in the verse includes a line separating the first “tamei” from the second, hinting that they are separated and are not both referring to the metzora.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email