This week's Torah reading deals with the offering brought by a person struck with a unique skin disease. The Sages teach that this affliction was caused by gossip and evil talk, and this indeed is the theme of the beginning of this week's Zohar translation. Our title also highlights the connection in English between the sword that afflicts pain, and "words" (which can be rearranged to spell "sword") that can be equally cutting.

And G‑d spoke to Moses saying, 'This shall be the law of the leper in the day of his cleansing.' (Lev. 14:1-2)

[Explaining this verse] Rabbi Aba opened [his discourse with the passage] "Be afraid of the sword; for wrath brings the punishment of the sword, that you may know that there is judgment." (Job 19:29). The word for "judgment" in the verse is spelled with the letter vav but pronounced with the letter yud.

The word for "judgment" in the verse is written "shaddoon" but pronounced "shaddiyn", which means "judgment" and hints at the harsh results of ignoring spiritual laws, as we will see.

A person is punished according to his words and deeds….

Job spoke this verse to his friends. He warned them that the anger they wrongly felt against him would in turn generate the punishment of the sword against them. This would teach them cause and effect in this world, where a person is punished according to his words and deeds.

How careful people should be to guard their behavior and be fearful before the Holy One Blessed be He, in order that they not to stray from the straight [lit. kosher] path, not to stray from the words of the Torah, and not to forget [its instructions].

In an often repeated theme, Rabbi Aba is reminding us that we should be conscious at all times of the requirements of the Torah in every situation. It is this consciousness that is the first step to keeping the evil inclination at bay.

Every person who doesn't toil in the learning of Torah…is reprimanded by the Holy One…

[They should be careful] because every person who doesn't toil in the learning of Torah and doesn't strive to understand it [and then act accordingly] is reprimanded by the Holy One, Blessed be He, and made distant from Him. The Shechina doesn't dwell with him, and those protecting angels that accompany a person [who is immersed in Torah and mitzvot] depart from him. Not only this, but they also act as heralds before him, announcing [to other holy angels], "Remove yourselves from around so-and-so because he is not fearful of his Creator. Woe to he who has been deserted by the higher [Zeir Anpin and the Shechina] and lower [guardian angels]. He has no part in the path of life.

The Torah is called the "Tree of Life", and following its instructions is called walking down the path of life. To remove oneself from this path is dangerous because the opposite path leads to spiritual and physical death. All of the sefirot then become perverted. For example, a person instead of fearing G‑d will fear all manner of fantasies; the former fear is wholesome and leads to corrected behavior, the latter is unhealthy and leads to pathological disorder.

…How many are the guardian angels that are summoned to protect him!

And when he exerts himself in service to his Master and exerts himself to learn Torah in-depth, how many are the guardian angels that are summoned to protect him! The Shechina dwells on him, and all herald him, announcing before him, "Give honor to the son of the King". He is protected in this [physical] world and in the World to Come. Happy is his portion!

Having explained how important awareness is in keeping on the spiritual path, Rabbi Aba now turns to the topic of slander. The first example of slander in the Torah is in the book of Genesis where the Snake told Eve that the Tree of Knowledge is forbidden: "For G‑d knows that in the day you eat of it, then your eyes will be opened, and you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil" (Gen. 3:5). The Midrash comments that the snake added that G‑d ate from the tree and created the world.

Come and see. The slander that the Snake told the woman [Eve] caused death to be pronounced upon the world.

Until they ate from the Tree of Knowledge, Adam and Eve were spiritual beings. Eating from the Tree caused them to shrink to mortal proportions.

It is written of slanderers, "Their tongue is a sharp sword." (Psalms 57:5) It is because of this that it is written, "Be afraid of the sword". [This means that one should] be afraid of slander, which is called by the name "sword". And [regarding that part of the verse above] that states, "…for wrath brings the punishment of the sword", what sword is being referred to? It is the sword of G‑d, as we have learned that the Holy One, Blessed be He, has a sword [the judgments in the sefira of malchut] and punishes the wicked with it. This is as is written in the verse "The sword of G‑d is filled with blood…for G‑d has a sacrifice in Basra" (Isaiah 34:6) and in the verse "My sword will eat flesh [of the enemies of Israel]" (Deut. 32:42).

We must be aware of the consequences of misusing the mouth, which relates to the sefira of malchut….

It is of interest to note that here, as in many other places, the Zohar is giving the "news behind the news". As we saw on the news that a wicked liar and slanderer of Israel was getting punished by the sword in Basra, southern Iraq, the Zohar is saying that this is a function of a spiritual law, valid at all times. It is also teaching us a lesson that we have to understand: just as malchut is a place of harsh judgment and must be dealt with very carefully, so too we must be aware of the consequences of misusing the mouth, which relates to the sefira of malchut.

Because of this it is written "Be afraid of the sword", because [malchut] is full of wrath because of the sins of the sword [slander and evil talk]. This is in order that you may know that there is judgment [from malchut] in the world - in order that you know that this is how he who has a sword on his tongue [slander and lies] will be judged. There is a sword awaiting him that will wipe him out completely. This is what is meant by the verse, "This shall be the Torah of the leper in the day of his cleansing." (Lev. 14:2)

The word "This", in Hebrew "zoth", is a code for the sefira of malchut in the Zohar, so that the verse can now be read to say that the sefira of malchut will ultimately afflict the person who slanders others.


Zohar, Metzora, p.52b; translation and commentary by Simcha-Shmuel Treister

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