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Home » Metzora

Metzora: Twitter

Submitted by on April 6, 2019 – 10:15 pmNo Comment | 197 views

Twitter nowadays has little to do with birds and everything to do with people, but the underlying idea is the same. Birds tweet to make noise and people tweet to make noise. Twitter is not a place for deep conversation. It is a place for shallow discussion, impetuous thrusts, and angry barbs. It is not communication, it is twitter.

I won’t deny that there is good in everything including Twitter. It enables people across the world to process world events together. It allows any individual to broadcast to the entire world. But tools are only as good as those who use them, and Twitter is not often used for enlightening conversation.

The Birds

Twitter is for the birds. Language is for people. Our sages described the human as a communicator because language is our strength. Language is the most effective tool for discovery of self and of others. Through language, we discover ourselves—we examine our inner depths. Through language we discover others—we communicate and form bonds. Language is thus the polar opposite of twitter. That is why language is for humans and twitter is for the birds—people communicate, birds tweet. When people start communicating through twitter, we lose respect for humanity because we lose our human core.

Despite what you may think, rest assured that this is not a bash-Twitter essay. I brought up twitter to draw a contrast between proper communication and shallow twitter. Language is about communication, twitter is about noise. In language we communicate ideas, in twitter we communicate words. In language the words form letters, in twitter the letters form words.

Let’s talk about that for a moment. When I want to communicate, I think about an idea, and then choose the words to convey it. I hardly pay any attention to the letters I form, the vowels and consonants—the noise—that make up my words and convey my ideas. Those come to me almost unbidden.

When birds tweet, they do the very opposite. They don’t start with ideas. The start with consonants and vowels. They start with noise. Their letters make no sense. With training and practice, parrots can be trained to put letters in sequences that sound like words. They can be further trained to string words together in a sequence that forms a sentence. In the end, it might even seem that the parrot conveyed an idea, but this is not language, it is twitter. The parrot has no interest in the idea and doesn’t know what it is saying. It claps out a string of letters that happen to sound like a word.

So, in language the words form the letters. In twitter the letters form the words. Those are complete opposites. And the difference is that language helps me uncover myself and communicate to you. It helps us form bonds. It helps to convey ideas on one level, feelings on another level, and our very selves at the highest level. Twitter conveys nothing. It is just noise. It might be disguised to sound like communication, but it lacks every vestige of language. It is not language. It is twitter.

Gossip

People who gossip use language, the tool for bonding, to disparage people and destroy bonds. Instead of communicating to connect, they communicate to corrupt. It isn’t only a crime against another, it is a crime against language—humanity’s core gift. When language is corrupted, all communication ceases. All bonding ceases. All self discovery ceases and all connections cease.

This isn’t merely a crime against one person. It is a crime against humanity. And the harshness of the crime lies in the fact that it isn’t immediately apparent. On the surface, gossip sounds and feels like communication. It has all the hallmarks of language. There are letters, words, and ideas. There are groups of people who seem to bond over the enjoyable morsel of gossip.

But under the surface, none of these exist. The bonding is artificial because those who seem to celebrate the gossiper secretly vow not to trust him or her. They know that the gossiper can never be entrusted with their vulnerabilities. Language is about sharing ourselves with others, but no one will share with a gossiper. It feels like the gossiper is connecting through gossip, but gossip actually destroys those connections.

Similarly, it sounds as if the gossiper uses language to communicate, but this isn’t language. It sounds like it contains letters, words, and ideas, but it is twitter not language. Language begins with ideas that find expression in sentences that are strung together by words and are expressed through letters. Gossip is a collection of letters that form words that string together sentences. But it doesn’t lead to communication. It doesn’t lead to bonding. And if it doesn’t lead to bonding, it isn’t language. It’s just noise. It is twitter.

Dispatch the Bird

In biblical days, when people gossiped, they were afflicted with a skin condition called Tzaraas. After the Tzaraas faded, the Metzora was required to take two identical birds, slaughter one and dispatch the other to fly across the fields. Seven days later, the Metzora would bring more conventional offerings to atone for the sins that led to the Tzaraas.

What is the purpose of this unusual and in fact unique ritual? Why the birds, why two birds, and why slaughter one and send the other away?

By now, you might already suspect where I am going with this. The Metzora was afflicted because of gossip. Gossip is a crime against language because we use consonants and vowels to achieve the very opposite of what language is meant too achieve. Instead of bonding, the Metzora distances. Instead of communicating, the Metzora tweets.

The process of repentance requires that the Metzora contemplate the sin and identify where he went wrong. Precisely because gossip looks like communicating, it is important to identify precisely how it differs from language.

To this end, the Metzora takes two identical birds and slaughters one. As the bird is slaughtered, the Metzora contemplates that he used language to slaughter friendships and relationships, to destroy reputations and people, rather than to bond and to communicate.

As the second bird is dispatched to fly across the fields over distant horizons, the Metzora contemplates that true communication, proper use of language, entails the sharing not only of ideas but of one’s very self. On the deepest level, language enables us to convey our subconscious thoughts, ideas that even we were not aware we had. Language enables us to convey our very selves. Language is the medium for all relationships and in a relationship two people fuse. The medium for such fusion is language.

Language is meant to help us convey aspects of ourselves that are beyond even our recognition like the bird who flies away to a place that is beyond our field of vision. This realization enables the Metzora to repent for his devastating abuse of language—his crime against humanity.

He was then repatriated into the community and invited to converse. Now that he knew how to use language, he was meant to begin his journey on the road of communication.

We don’t have Tzaraas today, but we still have language, and we still have gossip, and the road is still open for repentance.[1]

[1] This essay is loosely based on Or Hatorah, Vayikra:3, pp. 819-822.

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