By Rav Shmuel Brazil
The Medrash relates a story of a רוכל – peddler who went from town to town pedaling his long life potion Wherever he went he would announce “who wants life” and he would immediately be surrounded with throngs of buyers for such a heavenly product. The Medrash relates that one time he came to the town where Rav Yanai dwelled and Rav Yannai said that he wanted to purchase his potion for long life. Whereupon the peddler took out his sefer tehillim and read before Rav Yannai the passuk מי האיש החפץ חיים אוהב ימים לראות טוב נצור לשונך מרע ושפתיך מדבר מרמה . Thus he revealed to Rav Yannai that the only potion for long life had already been introduced hundreds of years earlier by Dovid Hamelech and which is to refrain from speaking lashaon harah. Only this way can long life be preserved.
Rav Yaani remarked that in his entire life he never understood the passuk in this way and only now he fathomed the depth of its inner meaning. The Medrash concludes that in the same vein Moshe Rabbeinu gives heed to Yisrael by saying זאת תורת המצורע – מוציא רע This is the Torah and the purification process for the individual who speaks out evil talk and contacts tzaraas.
The obvious question is what novel insight did this peddler give to Rav Yannai which he did not perceive until now? Rav Yannai being an Amorah clearly understood this passuk with all its meanings found on the four levels of פשט דרוש רמז סוד So what was this peddler’s amazing chiddush which he conveyed by merely reading the passuk?
The Ishbitzer Rebbi answers that this peddler was not your regular run of the mill peddler. The term רוכל is the same term that the Torah uses in the prohibition of lashon harah לא תלך רכיל בעמיך For someone who goes around sharing gossip with his audience is a peddler of lashon harah. One therefore might erroneously think that the way one must correct his evil talk and gossiping is to refrain from talking and minimize communication to the point of maybe even doing a taanis dibbur every Mon and Thursday. This peddler gave the insight to Rav Yannai that the ultimate way in correcting this shortcoming is by doing just the opposite. One must begin to use his dibbur and speech in a positive manner even to the point of encouraging others to improve their speech thereby creating unity בקש שלום creating unity amongst Yidden. Sure it would be easier not to leave your house and refrain from meeting others so in this way you can ensure that you will not ever get into trouble. However, this peddler baal teshuva taught that it is true that one must refrain his mouth from speaking lashon harah but at the same time the ultimate teshuva is to use the talking and grouping with people beneficially by inspiring them to strive for perfection in their speech. For this he was setting an example.
One of the על חטא that we say in the viduy is על חטא שחטאנו לפניך ביצר הרע The question arises isn’t every חטא that is mentioned in the viduy caused by the yetzer hara? One explanation is that this particular viduy is referring to the transgression that we did not channel the forces of yetzer harah into good deeds. For any middah can be used either for good or bad. One can be jealous of another’s material wealth. On the other hand he could use this middah for being jealous of his chesed or of his hasmada which would therefore inspire him to improve from the level on which he is presently holding. This concept is expressed in the Torah’s mitzvah of loving Hashem with all your heart upon upon which Rashi comments with both yaitzers [creative forces]. Here too, by metzorah which is a punishment for one who was a gossiper, the Torah wants him to continue his communication amongst people as before even amongst groups, however now, it is only to be used in the positive manner. By doing so he has corrected not only his speech but also all the connective links that went along with his dysfunctional dibbur.
All this could be hinted in the mitzvah why the metzorah on the day of his tahara, brings a karban of two birds. The nature of birds is that they always chirp and never seem to stop. Most mefarshim learn that this is to symbolize that his metzorah state was brought upon him because he is likened to the chirping of birds by gossiping. With the above understanding, we can suggest that the bird karban is part of the rehabilitation process. He must learn not to stop speaking but on the contrary to speak even more [two birds] but this time in a corrective and functional fashion.
This is hinted in the opening passuk of metzorah זאת תורת המצורע . The word zos can be separated into two words. The letter zayin which symbolizes the number seven שבעcan also be translated as satisfied and satiated by pronouncing the letter with a sin instead of a shin. The letters of aleph and tav symbolize the aleph bais which go from aleph until tav. The passuk introduces the catharsis of the metzorha with this word to signify that fixing the problem is by using positive speech and not to shut down and avoid communications altogether. On the contrary, one must satiate himself with aleph bais, meaning with speech of all sorts that would bring everyone else back to the Torah and its observance. זאת תורת המצורע. In this way he brings out מוציא רע all the ill effects of lashon hara which lie inside himself that would interfere with long life.
The peddler upon reading the passuk to Rav Yaani wanted him to focus on this point as it is alluded to in the passuk. סור מרע ועשה טוב בקש שלום ורדפהו Dovid Hamelech is telling us here that it is insufficient just to turn away from evil talk and shut down. Rather one must now channel the bad behavior into positive and good speech [ עשה טוב] Look to compliment another rather than to criticize, to applaud an action rather than to knock it, to seek to find a good and redeeming point rather than to focus upon failure, to validate effort rather than the lack of accomplishment, and to seek peace בקש שלום [meet with others and share your new insights how to rectify the dysfunctional dibbur until you mamesh chase after it ורדפהו similar to the peddler who went from town to town].
The Chofetz Chaim who wrote the incredible magnus of Shemiras Halashon was an incessant speaker. He was like the peddler in the Medrash who understood that the real tikkun for lashan harah is to use all the faculties used in the avairah and even more so.