When we read Parashat Tazria-Metzora, we often think of bodily functions and ailments that are not always the easiest recipe for words of Torah. When we think of Metzora, we think of leprosy, the punishment that the Torah uses in cases of Lashon Hara, evil speech, or more commonly, gossip. However, with the school year coming to a close, I want to suggest that we focus on the opposite- Lashon Hatov, praising and thanking.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, in an essay on Lashon Hatov connected to Parashat Metzora, writes: “Praise, and how we administer it, is a fundamental element in leadership of any kind. Recognizing the good in people and saying so, we help bring people’s potential to fruition…the right kind of praise changes lives…Bad speech diminishes us; good speech can lift us to great heights.”
In a season where seniors are graduating, new student leaders are rising up to meet new challenges, and some are facing realities of not being where they want to be, we have an opportunity to uplift our students, to build them up before they leave us for the summer. While some do need to hear hard truths about themselves, such as why they are not an engagement intern or leader of their club, the way we do this is crucial. Just as the praise must be right, so too does must a rejection be said in the right way.
As we and our students all face transitions of different sorts, join me in making sure that everyone enters the summer with their head held high, knowing that they are a valued member of our community whose presence matters and contribution is important.
Rabbi Ilan Schwartz is the senior Jewish Educator at Ohio State University Hillel.