At the very end of this week’s parsha, the Torah tells us about the sin of Miriam, and her subsequent punishment for it. What was her sin? She spoke lashon hara about Moshe, to their brother Aharon. The story, as Rashi explains, is that Miriam overheard Tzipporah, Moshe’s wife, comment that Moshe had been abstaining physical contact with her, in order so that he be in a constant state of preparation to receive nevuah, prophesy. After hearing this, Miriam went to share this with Aharon.
Miriam was punished for this in 3 ways:
1. With tzara’at
2. The entire camp had to wait until she healed from her tzara’at to continue travelling through the desert
3. Miriam’s sin became one of the shesh zechirot, the six things we are supposed to remember every day of our lives.
What’s very troubling is that Rashi continues to explain that Miriam’s intention was not to speak disparagingly about Moshe. The Ramban even explains that she hoped that by informing Aharon about what she perceived as Moshe’s improper behavior, Aharon would then talk to Moshe, who would then correct his mistake. Therefore we have to ask the following question: Why was Miriam punished so harshly if her intentions were good? Additionally, why is this considered Lashon Hara?
The reason is very simple, yet very profound: By going to Aharon and not speaking to Moshe directly, Miriam demonstrated a perfect example of what NOT to do when you have a conflict with someone. The solution to any problem can only be achieved when the parties in question resolve their issues with each other. Involving a third party never solves anything and can often add flames to the fire. The Torah is not just a law book, a history book, or a story book. Its primary purpose is to instruct the Jewish people in appropriate conduct. The reason Miriam was punished so severely was to teach us all a lesson in conflict resolution. The book of Tehillim describes the torah as “diracheha darchei noam, v’chol netivoteha shalom”- all its paths are peace. In handling the situation the way she did, Miriam deviated from the very fundamental and core values of the Torah, and that is why her punishment was so severe. We remember this every day so that each and every one of us is reminded of this powerful lesson on how to solve our conflicts: It can only be done through direct communication. We have to talk things out, not involve people unnecessarily, and not let things sit and fester. This is an appropriate lesson to remember in these times for as the Rambam says, when there is peace among the Jewish people, there will be peace in the world.
Rabbi Jeff Ney
High School Student Activities Director