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I often write about finding a relevant message for ourselves in our ancient, sacred texts.

This week we read a double portion, called Tazria-Metsora, which includes an extensive discussion of so-called leprosy that can affect a person, a building, and clothing.

One of the strangest things about the book of Leviticus is the job of the priests. They seem to be glorified butchers and cooks, following precise instructions on slaughtering an array of animals, and then preparing parts of the carcasses to burn on the altar, and the remainder for their dinner.

They also had the task of identifying skin problems (mistakenly called leprosy), and deciding if a person was pure or impure. During the 40 years in the desert, they were tasked with inviting back into the camp those who had been sent outside to heal, to ensure that no one was permanently ostracized.

The rabbis of the Talmud decided to look at the priests’ jobs in a different light. They started by playing a word game, taking the word for leper, metzora, and reading it as motzi shem ra, gossip or slander. Now the priests are seen in a completely different role – leaders in an effort to rid the community of destructive talk. Because they knew, as we do, that words can be weapons.

The ancient sage Ben Sira wrote, “Have you heard something about someone? Let it die with you. Be of good courage, it will not harm you if it ends with you.”

Advice as sound today as it was over two thousand years ago.