Lashon Hara & Contamination

Rabbi E. Feder and Rabbi A. Zimmer

The last Rambam in Sefer Tahara (Mikvaos 11:12) explains that halachik contamination (tumah) contains allusions to the philosophical contamination of the mind (corrupt thoughts and character traits).  In the last Rambam in 16:10 (Tumah and Tzaraas) he gives an example of such allusions in the case of leprosy. We would like to explain how some of the unique laws of the leper (that he must leave the camp and that he transmits contamination via his his dwelling place are in line with these philosophical allusions.

The Rambam in Tumah and Tzaraas says that leprosy was not a natural affliction.  Rather, it was a miraculous affliction only for the Jewish nation, for the sin of lashon hara; speaking slander, gossip, etc. 

As a person spoke more and more lashon hara, the affliction of leprosy would spread.  It would start with the walls of his house.  If he didn't stop speaking lashon hara, it spread to his furniture.  After that, to his clothes.

Finally, if in spite of all these afflictions he still couldn't stop, it spread to his skin and he became a leper, an outcast from society and was thereby prevented from further evil speech.  He was sent out from the Jewish camp.  The Rambam explains (Bias Mikdash 3:2) that the reason he is distanced further than every other person who is tamay, is because the leper transmits contamination when he enters a house.  No other living person who is tamay does that; only a corpse.

Why does the leper have this distinction? We suggest that the reason is because the leper, the one who is addicted to lashon hara, contaminates his environment. He creates divisiveness and thereby destroys the social fabric of a society which harbors him.  He must be cast out of the Jewish camp.  (Rashi on Vayikra 10:14 identifies the very purity of the camp with this law.  He states that holy things can only be eaten in the Jewish camp which is pure from having lepers in it.)

The idea that the leper, through his malicious speech, destroys social relations and is therefore sent out of the camp, is expressed in a gemara Aruchin 16b: 

"Why is the leper unique that the Torah says that he should dwell alone outside of the camp? Since he separated between a man and his wife, between a man and his friend, so too the Torah says that he should dwell alone."  

We now extend this idea to explain the leper's uniqueness of transmitting contamination to his place of dwelling (for further elaboration on the halachik aspects of this uniqueness, see, "Lepers and the Dead").  It is not only society as a whole that suffers from those who speak lashon hara.  The leper morally corrupts those individuals who come into contact with him; philosophically poisoning those who sit down and converse with him.  A person who speaks lashon hara contaminates those who are in his dwelling through social contact.

It is for this reason, the Rambam says, that it is fitting for someone who wants to follow a proper path to distance himself from their dwelling and from speaking with them, so that he does not get trapped in their web of evil and foolishness.

In summation, the halachik contamination of the leper extends to his dwelling.  Likewise, the philosophical contamination of someone who speaks lashon hara extends to those who sit down to hang out with him.  Halachikly, a leper must be cast out of our society. Philosophically, the same is true with those who speak lashon hara.  The only remedy for him is to dwell in isolation.