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Silence and Speech - Parshas Metzora 5769

Posted by Yosef Tropper
April 23, 2009 - ל' ניסן ה' תשס"ט
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 וצוה הכהן ולקח למטהר שתי ציפורים (יד:ד).

“The Cohen shall command to take two birds for the person receiving his atonement” (14:4).

As part of the purification process of the Metzorah, the leper, he must bring two birds. Rashi tells us that the reason is based on the fact that leprosy comes as a punishment for speaking lashon hara, slanderous speech. This is an act of “chatter,” thus, he must bring chatter-filled birds, as his atonement.

The question is, wouldn’t one bird suffice to convey this message, why does the Torah require that two birds be brought for the purification process?

Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried (author of the Kitzur Shulchun Aruch) finds a beautiful and relevant message in the requirement of two birds and explains the following. The Gemara in Chullin (89a) states that man’s job when dealing with people is to make sure to keep his negative speech silent! However, when it comes to Torah learning, on the contrary, he is encouraged to speak up! With this prerequisite we are now prepared to understand the lesson of the birds!

We are taught that the purpose of bringing Korbanos, sacrifices, was to awaken in the donor’s heart the recognition that the process being done to the animal should have really been performed on him. From the slaughtering until the burning, one would observe the process while contemplating how if not for Hashem’s mercy which granted him the chance for repentance and allowed this animal to be his replacement, this should have been him!

This being the case, when the Metzorah brings one chirping bird for atonement and watches it get slaughtered, he will be left with the impression that all talk should be totally avoided! After all, this must be the reason for slaughtering the chatterbox creature. However, this is not the proper perspective. There are many times when speech is appropriate and even a Mitzvah, like in the learning of Torah and in performing chessed for others! In fact, the Gemara teaches us that the best atonement for one who spoke lashon hara is precisely to use his mouth for Torah learning! He thus brings a second bird to set this straight. Let us explain.

Mishley (18:21) states, “life and death depend on the mouth!” These two options (life and death) are exactly congruent with the two types of speech and the two birds. One bird is slaughtered reminiscent of the fact that misused speech causes harm and death. The second bird which he brought is sent away to fly free to live out the rest of its life pleasantly. This signifies that good speech brings life. The Metzorah is thus shown very powerfully that he must carefully train himself to use his gift of speech properly.

The Chafetz Chaim expresses this same principle revolving around the me’il, tunic, of the Cohen Gadol. The hem contained ornate pomegranate and bells. The golden bells represent positive Torah speech, connoting that one’s words should be loud and heard! However, if one wishes to express words which are negative, then follow the example of the pomegranate, a closed silent ball! The verse commanding the making of this vestment concludes, “and the wearer shall be heard when he enters the holy domain.” The Chafetz Chaim homiletically reads this verse to teach us that one who exercises proper speech will merit that Hashem will accept his prayers and Torah learning in heaven! 

This is the lesson of the two birds, to know when to be silent and when to speak up!

Parshas Metzora ,

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