The Torah in Parashat Mesora outlines the procedure of the purification of the Mesora, an individual who experienced the Sara’at skin infection which rendered him Tameh (ritually impure). A Mesora is required to live outside his city, and he may return only after undergoing the procedure which the Torah details in this Parasha.
When reading this section, we immediately notice that the entire process of purification is conducted by a Kohen. It is a Kohen who determines that the Sara’at infection has been cured, and who performs all the special rituals required for the Mesora to regain his status of purity. Why does the Kohen play such a prominent role in the Mesora’s purification?
The Sages teach that Sara’at was not a medical condition; this was not some kind of dermatological disorder. Rather, Sara’at affected a person due to his or her sins; it reflected a spiritual disease, rather than a medical disease. The Sages list seven sins on account of which a person would be stricken by Sara’at, but the most common cause of Sara’at was Lashon Ha’ra – gossip, slander, and other negative speech about other people. This is why a Mesora was forced to live in isolation outside the city – so that he would not have anybody with him to listen to his gossip and stories about people.
Among the most common forms of Lashon Ha’ra is negative speech about leaders, particularly religious leaders. Rabbis are likely the subject of more Lashon Ha’ra than any other group of people. Each week, when families sit down for Shabbat lunch, invariably, at one point or another, the Rabbi’s speech in the synagogue that morning comes up. People give their opinion, their assessment of how the Rabbi “performed,” and before they know it, a full-fledged conversation ensues about the Rabbi, with all kind of “juicy” information – often untrue – is thrown around. I have personally experienced this near-obsession with “Rabbi gossip” on more than one occasion, when I have returned from a trip to hear all kinds of stories about my trip – stories that were not even remotely close to the truth.
This, perhaps, is why the Torah assigned the task of the Mesora’s purification specifically to the Kohen. The Torah wanted the Mesora, the gossiper who spread all kinds of rumors and stories about the Kohanim – the teachers and religious leaders – to now be dependent upon the Kohen’s services, and submit himself to his authority. As part of his process of rectifying his sin of Lashon Ha’ra, he must learn to respect the authority of the Kohanim.
Lashon Ha’ra is a pernicious Torah violation regardless of whom it is spoken about, but it is particularly harmful when it is spoken about Rabbis. The special role of the Kohen in the Mesora’s purification reminds us to exercise special care in the way we speak about our religious leaders, to afford them the respect they deserve, and avoid indulging in cynical and negative rumors that tarnish their reputation and serve to undermine their authority.