Rav Shlomo Aviner, Chief Rabbi of the Beit El community and head of Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim in the Old City of Jerusalem, asks a number of questions about an event that is recounted in this week’s parsha, Ki Saitzai. The Torah tells us, “Zachor es asher asa Hashem Elokeicha l’Miriam baderech b’tzeischem miMitzrayim – Remember what Hashem, your God, did to Miriam on the way, when you were leaving Egypt.” (24:9) This pasuk is referring to Bamidbar, chapter 12, when Miriam speaks ill of Moshe, and is punished with an affliction of tzara’as. Rav Aviner is puzzled by the severity of the sentence administered to the prophetess for such a seemingly insignificant sin, after all:
1) Everything Miriam said was true;
2) She only said it in private;
3) She only said it to another family member, Aharon, the Kohen Gadol;
4) She only meant for the betterment of Moshe and the world;
5) Moshe wouldn’t really be insulted- he was the most humble of people;
6) She was speaking about her little brother whom she loved dearly!
Both, according to Rambam (in the Laws of Impurity) and Ramban (in his comments on the abovementioned verse), the questions themselves are the answers:
1) Lashon HaRa (Evil Speech) is a serious problem, certainly not an ‘insignificant sin,’ and it includes even true statements;
2) Even when said to only one other person, it is still problematic;
3) Even when that ‘one other person’ is a relative;
4) Even when the intentions are good, it does not necessarily make it permitted;
5) Even regarding a person who does not get insulted (is there such a person?);
6) Even when you love the person being spoken about!
Remembering what happened to Miriam is a constant reminder to take what comes out of our mouths seriously. Comments that are ostensibly harmless, or meant in ‘good fun,’ could actually be very hurtful and damaging. Let’s be careful and learn from Miriam’s mistake. May we all merit to guard our tongues properly.
Have a great Shabbos, and a Kesiva V’Chasima Tova.