In our sedra we read about the purification process of a metzora (‘leper’); someone who spoke lashon hara [or was stingy or stole; Torah Temimah metzora 143]. The metzora brings two birds as sacrifices when he becomes pure again; as related at the start of our sedra. The Zohar comments (apparently) that one bird is for the lishna bisha - the derogatory words of lashon hara - that the metzora spoke, and the other is for lishna tava; the good/positive words. What does the Zohar mean; why bring a korban for good words? And besides, the metzora spoke lashon hara, not good words? Rabbi Frand brings an answer that the Zohar means that in speaking these negative words of lashon hara, the metzora committed two offences. First is the negative speech itself, and second is the fact that they missed out on the opportunity to speak good, constructive words; that they didn‘t say lishna tava. One might add a small twist to the answer in explaining that the fact that this person had spoken constructive and positive speech in the past showed that he was capable of speaking positively - and so he is now liable for failing to live up to this standard when he spoke lashon hara. Here, too, it was essentially the missed opportunity to utilise positive speech that the Zohar is referring to in its second bird korban. The question highlights an important point, which we shall expand upon… Often, people do not realise that we are here to do positive things - to fix ourselves and the world via mitzvos - and not just to avoid the negatives of sinning. People are under the impression that ‘all I must do is spiritually cope and make sure I don’t do anything wrong,’ and they see religion as restrictive as a result. The Chofetz Chaim expressed this point in a parable: Imagine someone who borrows a sum of money from his fried for a specific period of time. Once the repayment date arrived, the lender went back to the borrower and asked for his money back. ‘No problem,’ said the borrower, ‘I kept the money stored safely in a box to make sure nobody would take it.’ ‘You fool,’ replied the lender, ‘I did not give you the money that you should store it away safely and not touch it; I gave you the money so that you should use it.’ So, too, said the Chofetz Chaim, is the case if people are so afraid of speaking lashon hara that they elect not to speak whatsoever. HaShem did not give them the gift of speech to be able to store away safely and not to touch it, but rather to use in a positive fashion. And we may simply extent the theme of the Chofetz Chaim to encompass life in general; we were not put here in this world to simply avoid doing negative things / to avoid destroying the world, but rather to proactively and positively improve the world via miztvos. And besides, just avoiding the negatives is not only not fulfilling our mission in a passive way, but is an active failing in our mission to fix the world with the kingship of HaShem, as we say thrice daily in Aleinu. In short, we need to produce a positive spiritual output; spiritually ‘coping’ is not the goal. The Navi says that the city of Sedom was destroyed because they did not do any good deeds. But they did much worse than not doing good deeds; they did terrible sins and were immoral too. For example, it was the practice in Sedom that nobody was allowed to house guests form outside of town; Lot did and was nearly killed. Moreover, the local custom was that when a guest did not fit the bed they were given, either the guest would be stretched, or their legs would be cut short, depending on if the bed was too long or too short for them. So why, when listing the reasons for their punishment of destruction, does the Navi fail to mention their sins; instead opting to cite their lack of mitzvos? The answer is that as long as a society has positive output via good deeds, then no matter how many sins they have, HaShem makes a judgment and weighs up the sins against the mitzvos. But in the Sedom scenario when the society in question has no good deeds whatsoever, there is nothing to weigh up, and the city is destroyed on the spot. This is why it was their lack of mitzvos that the Navi cites as their cause of their destruction, omitting their terrible aveiros; for once there is a lack of any mitzvos, it’s ‘game over / case closed’ so to speak. (R’ Tatz) This cements out theme too; that of ensuring one has a positive output in terms of mitzvos, and not focussing all one’s attention on avoiding sins.

A similar theme is expressed by the Rambam; not regarding a failure to have any spiritual output whatsoever, but rather sins outweighing mitzvos. The Rambam writes (hil. Teshuva 3;2) that anyone whose sins outweigh their merits will die immediately. But the Ravid there points out an important question; he asks that there are many wicked people alive at the moment; how does that work according to the Rambam; they should have been killed immediately because of their wickedness? The kesef mishna answers the Ravid’s question. He points out that the weighing up of sins versus merits is not done via our human calculations, but by HaShem’s calculations - which we do not comprehend. Thus, the power of one mitzvah may outweigh many aveiros. Consequently, according to the kesef mishnah, everyone alive [apart from exceptional circumstances] essentially has more miztvos to their account than aveiros. A great illustration of the power of one mitzvah to outweigh many sins occurred regarding the Chofetz Chaim. He was once staying at an inn in Russia, and noticed a middle-aged Jew sitting down at a table. Now this Jew had despicable manners - he was rude to the innkeeper - and did not say any form of blessing on his food; he just gobbled it down hurriedly, and again shouted at the waiter. The Chofetz Chaim was about to go up to this person to calmly rebuke him for his behaviour, when the innkeeper came up to the Chofetz Chaim and told him that this person had been drafted into the Czar’s army when he was 7 years old, and had been let out at the age of 42. He had been 35 years in the Russian army, and had developed all his manners there in the company of the immoral ruffians he had for comrades, with, of course no Jews in sight. The Chofetz Chaim went over to the person and told him that ‘I am jealous of your reward in Olam Haba; for you, it must have been such a gigantic test not to convert to Christianity, and you survived that test and remained proudly Jewish.’ Despite the fact that this person did not know how to daven, study Torah, or even read Hebrew, the one mitzvah that he had done of protecting the fact that he was Jewish, enabled the great Chofetz Chaim to be jealous of this person’s reward in the next world. And, as a direct result of the Chofetz Chaim’s kind words, this person became a ba’al teshuva. A final parable has been said on this issue (I think by Rabbi Tatz); a professor calls his fellow academics to show them the machine that he has completed after years of work. He pulls the cover off and presses a button to reveal a slick, well-oiled machine, with cogs and wheels turning perfectly. ‘What is it?’ they ask. ‘It’s perfect! It fuels itself and runs on its own energy - it is a self maintaining, self-cleaning machine,’ announces the professor gladly. ‘But what does it do?’ they ask. Replies the professor ‘well nothing, but look how it maintains itself.’ The alarming parallel is that we often focus our entire effort on self-maintenance, yet forget about producing any lasting output; which is really the goal.

Thus, in summary, let’s realise that a sin is not only a sin, but a missed opportunity to do a positive mitzvah and produce the positive output which we should be focussed on, and let‘s also not forget the power of one mitzvah. Have a great Shabbes,

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