Friday, April 1, 2011

"Real" Altruistic Priorities

Parshat Tazria

by Rabbi Avi Billet

Rabbi Yerachmiel Yisrael Yitzchak of Alexander, Poland explained the following rabbinic passage in a most creative and instructive manner. The rabbis taught, “[Tzara’at] blemishes come upon a person on account of the sin of lashon hara” (Erachin 15b and other places).

The rabbi of Alexander explained that those who speak Lashon Hara are often altruistic in intent. Since they are telling the truth, they’ll argue, they are fulfilling a mitzvah when they do point out the flaws of others. Truth, after all, is most important when trying to achieve an element of G-dliness in one’s actions.

This is why the Torah says, “The blemish needed to be brought before Aharon the Priest. (13:2)” We bring the so-called “truth teller,” who causes hate and division between people through his “truth,” to Aharon the Kohen.

According to the Rabbis, Aharon personally did the exact opposite. Aharon would, at times, tell a lie in order to bring about peace between individuals who were fighting. From this perspective, it is not just that the Kohen is invoked with the power to declare tzara’at to be the diagnosis or not. It is Aharon himself who is put in this task to show the individual that sometimes what seems to be the wrong value needs to take priority for the sake of the common good.

In Aharon’s case, eventually the truth will come out. He would tell individuals who were in an altercation that the other party wanted to make peace. And he would do it in a manner so that when they met again, they did make peace. One day, in conversation, they’ll figure out Aharon’s rouse. But they would have already made peace.

The person who speaks lashon hara, on the other hand, truthful as he or she may be, needs to come to Aharon himself to learn that peace is more important than some truths. That achieving an amiable solution is more desirable than fomenting strife and discord between peoples.

This is a challenge that many of us, particularly Jewish newspapers, struggle with. We are trained to think, “The truth must be told,” and "the public has the right to know." But sometimes the truth need not be told, out of respect for the privacy of those involved, and out of concern for the longer- term repercussions. It is not true that “All publicity is good publicity,” as much as society, celebrities, or individuals selling books would like you to think.

Let us take care to protect those about whom we know secrets so that we are doing our parts, like Aharon the Kohen, in promoting peace between friends and neighbors.

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