Last week's Torah portion concludes with the unfortunate incident in which Miriam speaks lashon harah (evil speech or slander) about her brother Moses.
Last week's Torah portion concludes with the unfortunate incident in which Miriam speaks lashon harah (evil speech or slander) about her brother Moses. The Rambam, the great 12th century codifier of Jewish law, admonishes us to heed a lesson from Miriam and guard our tongues. Miriam's lashon harah merely compared Moses with other prophets and nonetheless she was immediately stricken with the debilitating skin disease, tzaraat. How much more so should we, who often speak of mundane trivialities, be careful in our speech so as to avoid punishment.
In his fundamental "Thirteen principles of faith", Rambam writes that a Jew is obligated to believe that the prophecy of Moses was greater than that of any other prophet. Someone who denies any one of Rambam's "principles of faith" is considered a heretic. Based on this tenet, a fundamental question arises: How can Rambam expect us to learn from the incident of Miriam - her statement seemingly constituted heresy, certainly worse than our idle chatter. If her transgression was heretical, then there is simply no comparison to our sin of lashon harah!
Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman, one of the leading Torah scholars before WWII who perished in the Holocaust, explains that certainly we can learn from the incident of Miriam, for her comments were not heretical. It was only after G-d answered, "Not so is my servant Moses, in My entire house he is the trusted one. Mouth to mouth do I speak to him," (Numbers 12:7-8) in response to Miriam that we learn that one must believe that Moses' prophecy was unequaled by that of any other prophet. However, at the time of Miriam's remarks, the "principles of faith" were not yet established, and as such Rambam's warning is indeed valid.
Avi Wagner, a graduate of Yeshiva Atlanta, is studying at the Yeshiva Beis Yisrael in Jerusalem.
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