“You’re such a hard worker! I know how difficult this is for you. But I also know that when you put your mind to something, you succeed.”

Words are powerful. They can encourage someone to reach unbelievable goals, achievements that were previously thought of as unattainable.

Tell your child that she is beautiful. She will begin to stand taller and look at herself as someone possessing deeper and greater confidence. Tell your spouse that he is smart and capable. He will begin to see himself as a person who can work out problems and find solutions, and he will strive to reach greater accomplishments.

Words can also destroy. They can shred any semblance of faith or belief, burn any hope or aspiration.

Never tell your child that she is a failure. She will begin to see herself as incapable and unworthy. She will see it futile to even try. Never tell your spouse that he is a loser, stupid, or clumsy. Your words will become self-fulfilling prophecies.

The portion of Metzora speaks of a person who has developed tzaraat, a spiritual and physical punishment for speaking slander.

The word metzora, which means leper, is a contraction of two Hebrew words, motzi ra, someone who spreads evil or slander. (Erachin 15b)

The Talmud teaches us that evil talk kills three people: the speaker, the listener, and the one who is spoken of (Erachin 15a).

The speaker obviously commits a grave sin by speaking negatively of his fellow. The listener, too, is a partner to this wrongdoing and could have or should have stopped it.

But why is the one who is spoken of affected by their deed? Are his negative traits worsened by the fact that they are spoken of?

Yes, they are.

If we are honest with ourselves, we realize that we are not perfect individuals. We know we have a negative quality or trait that we need to work on. But we also know that we try to control or temper it. Sometimes, we succeed in conquering or redirecting it; sometimes we don’t. But our goal is to ultimately eradicate it.

When the trait is spoken of and defined, it is made that much more manifest and real. By speaking negatively of the person’s trait or deed, the evil speakers grant substance and validity to its negative potential.

But if this is true in the negative, the converse is also true.

Speak favorably of another, accentuate his or her positive attributes, and you help him to look at himself in a new and better light, in the positive manner that you have defined her.

Our words are powerful. Let’s use them to build greatness, rather than destroy.