Parshat Tazria begins the description of the laws of the Metzorah. The Torah states that a person declared to be a metzorah must tear his clothes, let his hair grow out, wraps his head and “he shall call out ‘Contaminated! Contaminated!”
The Midrash (Sifra), as quoted by Rashi, explains that the Metzorah must call out his impure status so that other people know to stay away from him. A person who comes into physical contact with the Metzora would also become impure.
The Talmud (Shabbat 67) offers a different understanding. According to the Talmud, the Metzorah calls out “Tamei, Tamei” so that people are aware of his/her status and they can then pray on the Metzorah’s behalf.
I think that the two interpretations are very relevant to us in our interpersonal relationships. When we hear troubling or disturbing news- what are we supposed to do with it? For instance: a person tells me that he got into a car accident at a busy intersection and is now under medical treatment. What is my response? Do I ask him what intersection it was, so that I can be more careful when I am driving there? Do I ask him how his treatment is going so that I know whether to go to those doctors, or recommend them to my friends?
Or do I engage the person in conversation for his sake, not my own? Do I ask him if there is anything I can help him with? Do I ask him if he’d like his name added to the Mi Sheberach list?
There are definitely instances in which the information we hear about others needs to be used primarily for the benefit and protection of ourselves and our loved ones. I believe that is the message Rashi is conveying from the Sifra. However the Talmud in Shabbat reminds us that we must always ask ourselves if there are ways to utilize our knowledge of the misfortune of others to not only make our lives better- but their lives as well.