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15 Sivan 5761 - June 6, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Remember What Hashem Did to Miriam

by L. Jungerman

Commentary, discussion, analysis, criticism, expert's opinion, condemnation where leniency is allowed -- all these constitute gossipmongering.

In this week's portion we find the principle origin of the prohibition of loshon hora. "And Miriam and Aharon spoke about Moshe -- and lo! Miriam is leprous as snow." The Torah commands us: "Remember what Hashem your G-d did to Miriam. Heed yourself in the matter of the leprous lesion to be very watchful and to do." From here we learn the obligation to remember that evil speech is liable to bring tzoraas and to guard ourselves against it.

The Torah chose to teach this dreadful lesson precisely through tzaddikim, for Hashem is punctilious with them to the hairsbreadth. Miriam the prophetess did not intend to denigrate Moshe, her brother, the holy one of Hashem. Indeed, she risked her life for him when he was an infant, placed in the reeds. Still, all of her righteousness and merit did not stand her by and she was punished most drastically. What then can we puny ones say who wag our tongues in evil gossip against our peers?

Here there arises a difficult question: Why was Miriam's remark about her brother considered loshon hora to begin with? The negative aspect of loshon hora lies in the fact that it causes damage to the other party, the object of the gossip. But here, the Torah hastens to testify that: And the man Moshe was exceedingly humble, more than any other man. Thus, whatever was said about him could not have caused him any distress or pain. Why, then, is it considered so serious?

Furthermore, Rashi says that Aharon participated in this evil gossip equally, as the verses bear out, but since Miriam initiated the talk, she is blamed. The gemora tells that Aharon was also stricken with leprosy. Which brings us to ask: We establish that Miriam heard from Tzipora that Moshe Rabbenu had divorced her and she told this to Aharon. But to whom did Aharon tell this that he was thus punished? Not to Miriam, since she already knew it. How can we label Aharon a gossipmonger?

Maran HaRav Yitzchok Hutner zt'l provides the answer, which lends a fundamental and deep insight to the entire subject of loshon hora and its prohibition. He splits the famous hairs, as it were, over the very wording of the prohibition as dealt with briefly in Rabbenu Yonah's Shaarei Tshuva (215): "And one who talks loshon hora is guilty on two points: 1) the damage and embarrassment which he causes his fellow man; and 2) his choice to condemn and blame his friend, and his satisfaction in the latter's downfall."

Pachad Yitzchok divides this sin into two categories with fine distinctions: the first is whereby the establishment of disgrace through the telling is clear-cut and obvious. The second kind of loshon hora is where establishing the fact of disgrace that Reuven tells of Shimon is an outcome of discussion and passing judgment, only then resulting in the censure.

These two kinds of evil speech are completely different because the rules forbidding loshon hora are defined in the words, "Who `spies' upon his neighbor." Rochil is equivalent to rigul. The commandment, "You shall not go gossipmongering in the midst of your people" means observing and bearing tales, which is essentially spying.

This category has two stages: finding another's weak point and then revealing it to an enemy. Loshon hora also has two stages: the actual discussion of a neighbor's act and passing a negative judgment where halacha determines that one should judge favorably. This is rigul since one is seeking to condemn another's acts and looking for his weak spots, whereas he should be condoning them. This is the ultimate evil of this type of sin.

In the second stage, where the shame is clear and evident, the act of rigul involves spreading the word abroad, exposing the weakness and wrongdoing.

Pachad Yitzchok concludes: Surely Miriam's act was of the first type of loshon hora. Her fault lay in failing to judge Moshe favorably. Certainly, with all of Moshe Rabbenu's merits, one should have sought only the good side, the proper rationale for his act. The worthier the accused, the more a judge must seek to acquit him.

Now we can understand how the sin of loshon hora included Aharon as well. He did not say anything to Miriam that she didn't already know, but he did acquiesce to her judgment and criticism. It made no difference that Moshe was exceedingly humble and that he was not distressed or insulted by what others said of him, for the error was theirs; they should have judged him favorably.

These words are very obligatory and binding. The implication is that even if an event was publicized and even if in circulating it further there is no element of rigul, that is, revelation of the other person's weakness after it has already been made public, still in all, the chewing it over, the discussion, interpretation, taking sides, criticism and the final passing of negative judgment where halachically one should be lenient and forgiving -- this does constitute rigul.

"For there is in the condemnation of a fellow man, contrary to what the law requires, an act of ferreting the faults and failings of another and a determination of his weak points. And there is no aspect of rigul worse than this!"

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