וצוה הכהן ולקח למטהר שתי צפרים חיות טהרות ועץ ארז ושני תולעת ואזב
The korban brought by one who speaks Lashon Hara is a unique one; a Metzora must bring, among other items, 2 birds to atone for his/her sin, however, only one of the birds is brought as a typical korban. The other bird is sent away in the field. No place else in the halachos of Kodshim is this sort of practice found (except something similar by the sei’ir l’azazel on Yom Kippur)
Rav Radinsky points out that in any action – good or bad – there are two critical elements:
Action and consequence. Often times, one can be a lot more significant than the other. For better or for worse…
In the case of Lashon Hara, there is a massive divide between the action and the consequence. The ma’aseh itself is nothing; speaking about someone else is a few moments of moving lips or typing on a keyboard. But the consequences/outcome can be devastating and permanent.
Once words are spoken we have no control over them. They are blasted out into the world and they can take on any form, go anywhere and be communicated to anyone.
The bird sent out into the field, represents the words that were spoken – words that we have no control over. The bird flies away and we don’t know where it will go; the same holds true for our damaging words.
There is a famous story about the Ben Ish Chai: A ba’al lashon hara came to him and said he wanted to do teshuva. The Ben Ish Chai replied, that if he wanted to do a tikkun of his actions, he should take a bag of feathers, scatter them in the wind, and then try to collect them all — ‘then you will have atoned for the Lashon Hara that you spoke’. Obviously this is impossible. The message is clear; it is lifelong mission to try and counteract the consequences of Lashon Hara. It is incredibly difficult to undue the effects of Lashon Hara. Atoning for the sin itself is fairly simple (just bring a bird as a korban), but to undo the outcome is impossible.
Based on an idea I saw by Rabbi Yochanan Zweig, I would like to humbly suggest another possibility regarding the purpose of the bird that is sent away. Rabbi Zweig notes that all human beings have positive and negative qualities, and when man speaks LH, he is focusing only on his victim’s negative qualities. Similarly, when one hears Lashon Hara, all the good qualities of the subject of the Lashon Hara, are eclipsed by the negative words being relayed. The speaker is essentially telling his listeners to ignore this person’s good qualities and instead focus on the person’s negative qualities. (Thus, as a midah k’neged midah, even one little patch of “infected” skin, renders the entire person a Metzora, who must leave the community until it is entirely gone. A tiny bit of negative has the devastating ability to ruin so much positive.) In this vein, perhaps the bird that is sent away represents the uncertainty or the lost potential for the victim of LH to be viewed in the future for his/her positive qualities. If Reuvein tells Shimon some juicy gossip about Levi, then Shimon’s view of Levi could be forever altered. Shimon may only know one thing about Levi, and it may be that one negative story he heard about him. Even if Shimon knows more than just that one bad thing Reuvein told him about Levi, he still may never look at Levi the same way.
The bird that is sent away in the field – likely never to return again – is that loss, suffered by the victim of the lashon hara, to be viewed by others in the future for his positive qualities. Undoubtedly, this person has good qualities, but they may never be visible to others, for the well has already been poisoned, so to speak. The perpetrator must acknowledge what he has set in motion. For had Reuvein not spoken LH about Levi, then Levi could have been known for his positive qualities. Instead, the speaker of LH chose to highlight his victim’s negative
יג: מי האיש החפץ חיים אהב ימים לראות טוב
יד: נצר לשונך מרע ושפתיך מדבר מרמה
טו: סור מרע ועשה טוב בקש שלום ורדפהו
13: Who is the man who desires life, and loves many days, that he may see good?
14: Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking guile.
15: Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.
One way of understanding the well-known psukim above, is that Dovid HaMelech is saying that the person who desires life must avoid speaking evil words about his fellow man. Speaking about other is tempting; avoiding doing so is a struggle experienced by the vast majority of human beings. But as difficult as avoiding speaking LH can be, it is still so much easier to not speak the LH in the first place, than trying to rectify it once the words have been spoken. When LH is spoken, then one must pursue and chase after shalom — the consequences of Lashon Hara are so destructive that it requires more than simple atonement; it also requires constant and active pursuit of peace and harmony.
The goal for how to interact with our fellow man, is to avoid a lifetime of “chasing feathers,” and instead use our time, and incredible gift of speech, to constantly be increasing shalom in the world.