The incident of Miriam the great prophetess becoming a metzora is very well known. Yet one wonders why this story is of such great importance that it must always be remembered every day of our lives. What lessons are we are supposed to learn from it? Is it that even great people get punished when they speak loshon hora? Besides, aren’t we to some extent actually degrading the memory of the great prophetess Miriam by keeping her sin fresh in our minds? Isn’t there a limit to how much shame she must be made to endure for her one sin that she committed with sincere intentions?
This raises another very difficult question. We find that the Torah sometimes conceals the name of the guilty party as in the incident of the m’koshesh aitzim (the one who gathered wood on Shabbos) in order not to embarrass the guilty, party yet the Torah does reveal the sins of some of the greatest tzaddikim. For instance, the Torah relates the sins of Yehudah, Moshe and Dovid. The Gemara tells us that we should not confess our sins in public, but rather do so in private. Then why does the Torah tell us the names of the great tzaddikim who sinned?
Let’s begin by understanding exactly what Miriam said that was so bad. She had heard that Moshe, her dear and beloved brother, had separated from his wife. This came as a great shock to her. Moshe and Tzipora always got along so well with one another. It seemed like the perfect marriage. She was beautiful both externally and internally. She was a woman of great valor and yiras shomayim, the true eshes chayil everyone would wish for. What had caused the breakup in their marriage? Perhaps she could help put it together again. The fact that Moshe was a great prophet certainly didn’t mean that he couldn’t stay married. Avrohom Avinu and Sarah were happily married. Miriam and Aaron were also prophets and were happily married. Why was Moshe different?
All she wanted was to get to the bottom of it all, so that she could put the marriage back together again. She loved her brother very dearly and she had the very best of intentions. In her wildest dreams she couldn’t imagine that she said anything wrong. She meant to do a very great mitzvah! She was bringing peace between man and wife! All she did wrong was compare Moshe to other prophets. Is this considered loshon hora? In fact, what she said didn’t bother Moshe in the very least, so what was so wrong? She could not know that Moshe’s nevuah was on such a high madrega that he wasn’t permitted to live with his wife. (See Rambam at the very end of Hilchos Tumas Tzoraas.)
Many a time we make critical statements in pure innocence and with the best of intentions only to later find out that we didn’t have all the facts. Had we known the truth, we never would have said what we did. We must realize that we don’t know everything, even though we think we do. Don’t be so fast at drawing conclusions or placing blame. We don’t always know all the facts.
The Torah wanted us to learn this very important lesson and remember it every day of their lives. Miriam’s greatest merit in Gan Eden is when people hear what happened to her and take the lesson to heart. We can’t always know why people do certain things. Things that wrong us may have an explanation we are unaware of. We must always give people the benefit of the doubt and judge them favorably.
Preventing others from sin is a very great merit for one’s neshama both in this world and in the next. This story teaches us that even when we love another person and we have his best interests in mind, we must be careful what we say!
By studying the story of Dovid and Bat Sheva, we learn how careful one must be not to look at things that are forbidden and where it can lead. If great tzaddikim can be enticed then we certainly must be extremely careful. Never think we are infallible. By the Torah telling us the names as well as what occurred, it may prevent us from falling into the same trap. These stories also teach us that even if we chas v’shalom commit a sin, all is still not lost. We still have the ability to do teshuva. By saving others from sinning, and getting others to do teshuva, these great tzaddikim receive much merit in the World to Come. When mentioning the sinner’s name serves no purpose, then the Torah will not reveal his name.
Usually when we hear of a divorce, we immediately begin to speculate as to whose fault it was, even though we may not have the faintest clue as to what really happened; nor will our conversation have any bearing on the situation. It’s hard to believe that such conversation can remain free of loshon hora or hotzoas shem ra, even when we have good intentions.
When speaking with a child and trying to help him with decisions that may affect his home or yeshivah, a rebbi may make certain remarks about another yeshiva the child wants to attend, or an incident that happened at home, blaming parents for the way they may have handled a particular matter, without knowing, all the details. How many times do we as parents make remarks about rebbes, teachers or yeshivas based on hearsay and half-truths! At the time, we rationalize that we have the child’s best interests in mind. Only later do we find out that we had based our remarks on inaccurate information.
I recently met a young bochur and asked him what yeshivah he was going to next year. He replied that he had wanted to go to yeshivah X, but his rebbe had convinced him that the yeshivah was too modern for him, and the learning was on a low level. The rebbe was trying to get him to change his decision. I was quite surprised and since I knew his rebbe very well, I decided to call him When I asked the rebbe on what he based his information, he told be that one of his neighbor’s sons goes to that yeshivah and he wasn’t impressed by the way he was doing. When I asked him if he had ever visited that particular yeshiva, he admitted that he hadn’t, and had based his opinion on hearsay. Realizing that there was only one only way I could get him to change his mind offered to drive him there and take a personal look at the yeshiva. That very same night we drove there and looked around theBeis Medrash as the boys sat and learned after their regular night seder was over. He was so impressed by the quality of boys he saw there and the great hasmoda he observed, that I didn’t have to say a word. He realized he had made a terrible mistake and boruch Hashem he was still able to correct his mistake. How many times do we offer advice based on insufficient evidence and perhaps our personal bias? It happens much too often!Shidduchim have been dropped and businesses ruined, all because of allegations based on inaccurate information, slander or gossip. Opinions are often given on matters we know little about.
A typical conversation starts out by comparing Yeshiva X with Yeshivah Y, Rabbi X with Rabbi Y or Dr. X, with Dr. Y. What are the chances that we don’t end up disparaging one or the other? Are we really sure that we have all the information and are we really qualified to be the judge? What do we really know about medicine? Do we know how the doctor is regarded by his peers? Did we ever sit in on the rebbe’s class – or are we taking the word of a ten year old who may judge the rebbe by the amount of prizes he receives rather then the quality of the lesson? While we may have the very best intentions, there is a very good chance that our conversation will soon become sprinkled with bits of loshon hora and even hotzoas shem ra.
Miriam too, was unaware of just one detail. She didn’t realize that Moshe was on a much higher level than any other novi that had proceeded him. Let’s not be quick to judge others. Many of our opinions are based on false rumor and distorted facts. We believe accounts written in newspapers or grand jury allegations without really knowing the true facts. We suspect people of wrongdoing on the basis of “where there is smoke there is fire.” Instead of presuming innocence we presume guilt! It’s only later that we find out that the story wasn’t exactly the way we had heard it. And, of course, we always rationalize that we are doing the greatest mitzvah! How many times have we suspected the innocent, only to later find out how wrong we were! This lesson is so important that it must be remembered every day of our lives. While we may mean well, usually we don’t know all the facts! If this story will get us to be more careful before we make any critical comment or even a comparison, it will be to Miriam’s great merit!