Discretion – Tazria-Metzora 5783

D'var Torah | Leviticus

In a series of chapters concerning all manner of afflictions, Nahmanides notices something curious. Leviticus 12 begins with God addressing Moses with regard to the status of the birthing mother. Leviticus 13 begins with God addressing Moses and Aaron concerning a leprosy-like infection. Leviticus 14 begins with God addressing Moses regarding the same matter. And Leviticus 15 begins with God addressing Moses and Aaron who are in turn instructed to speak to the Israelites regarding bodily effluences. The inconsistency of salutations seems odd.

Nahmanides offers an explanation. In matters that require detection and treatment by the priests, Aaron is included. (Alternatively, notes Nahmanides, Moses may simply be expected to convey to Aaron subsequently what he hears initially from God.) Israelites are excluded from the communication in Leviticus 13 and 14 since the Israelites themselves would have eagerly come forward without urging in order to have their condition assessed. And when it comes to all kinds of bodily emissions, the Israelites are not addressed to spare them the embarrassment of a public discussion of intimate matters.

One way to summarize Nahmanides’ observation is that only those who need to know are included in the sharing of scriptural admonitions. A better way to characterize Nahmanides’ observation is that privacy must always be respected. Prior to voicing any information that might seem innocent or innocuous, consider first whether that information might cause undue embarrassment to another. Wisdom and empathy then demand silence.


Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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