Sunday, April 26, 2009

Metzora -- how to turn a rochel into a talmid chacham

The Midrash tells us of the rochel, a peddler, who wanted through the towns near Tzipori calling out "Who wants life?" R' Yanai followed this rochel around to observe what this unusual hawker might be selling. When a crowd gathered the peddler finally revealed his secret -- "Mi ha'ish he'chafeitz chaim -- Netzor leshoncha me'ra..." The pasuk tells us that one who desires life need only avoid evil gossip.

True, the rochel taught the pasuk in a way that was engaging and caught people's attention, but at the end of the day is there any lesson in this Midrash that we would not glean from the pasuk itself?

The prohibition of talebearing is called rechilus because it was the rochel, the peddler who travelled from town to town, who was usually the bearer of the latest juicy news and gossip. The peddler in our story was travelling around Tzipori, perhaps hinting to the birds which are used in the purification of metzora because talebearers endlessly gabber like the chirping of birds. It stands to reason that the rochel who R' Yanai followed had what we might call a gossip problem.

How do you cure such a problem? Some would advocate a simple solution: stop speaking! If the rochel simply would learn to shut his mouth, then problem solved. The rochel might be told by well meaning individuals to "work on himself", to fight against his inclination. The battle would surely consume the rochel's mental and physical energy, but what a small price to pay to correct a midah.

There is, however, another approach. The rochel's problem is not speaking per se, but rather speaking gossip. Instead of fighting his natural inclination, the rochel can solve his problem by using his natural inclination for a positive goal. Speak -- but instead of gossiping, teach people a pasuk! Teach people that even a rochel can use the traits he was blessed with for a holy and positive end.

Chanoch la'na'ar al pi darko -- the lesson of the rochel teaches the often preached but seldom practiced educational methodology of channelling the child's natural inclinations and traits toward positive achievements instead of trying to break those traits and change the child into something he/she is not.


  1. Barzilai10:13 AM

    Rochel and Tzipori. Good observation.

  2. Also, the very next Pesukim (34:14-15) tell us not only, "Netzor Leshoncha MeiRa," but also "Sur MeiRa VaAsei Tov." It's not enough to stop speaking! Rather, Asei Tov, speak good words!