Judaism is a Combination of Ethics and Ritual
Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
Last week’s parasha, Shemini, ended with many of the laws of kashrut. Specifically, it contained a long list of animals that are permitted or forbidden to eat. The first parasha we read this week, Tazria (this week we read two parashot, Tazria and Metzora), deals with the laws of negayim, different health conditions that could affect people. Most notably, the disease called tzaraat (sometimes understood as leprosy), is described.
As usual, the rabbis try to learn a lesson from the fact that one topic in the Torah comes right after a very different one. In our case, why would the Torah set the rules for eating kosher right before the rules about the Biblical diseases called negayim? I would like to share with you an explanation provided by Rabbi Israel Lipkin from Salant (also known as Israel Salanter, 1809, Zhagory – 1883, Königsberg; he was the father of the Musar movement).
As you may have heard, the sages explained that most of the diseases described in parashot Tzaria-Metzora are due to the sin of lashon hara, derogatory speech, gossip. Rabbi Israel Salanter found that while most of the people of his time were careful about keeping the laws of Kashrut, they were much more lenient in observing the laws of good speech. In other words, people took care in what they ate, but not so much in what they said about other people.
For Rabbi Salanter, the fact that parashot Tazria and Metzora come right after parashat Shemini teaches us that we should be as careful with what we say (or write!) about other people as we are with what we eat. The sin of not eating kosher is as bad as the sin of evil-speaking.
Being a good Jew implies taking care of the ritual mitzvot (for example eating kosher, putting on Tefillin or not working on Shabbat), as well as the moral mitzvot, (for example not gossiping, helping others, and honoring your parents). Being Jewish is neither only about observing rituals; nor is it only about being a good person. The Torah wisely combines ritual and moral mitzvot, and it is important to observe both types of mitzvot.