By Rabbi Y. Dov Krakowski
The Sedra relates that Moshe Rabeinu’s siblings, Miriam and Aharon, spoke negatively about him after he had separated from his wife. Although the reason for that separation is not mentioned explicitly in the text, it is implicit from the context. Moshe Rabeinu separated from his wife in order never to be in the state of Tumah (contamination) that comes with marital relations, so as to enable him to receive prophesy on a constant basis. Miriam expressed her dismay at Moshe’s course of action to their elder brother Aharon. She said to Aharon that she couldn’t understand Moshe Rabeinu’s rationale; after all weren’t they all Neviim, and why did he thus think it necessary to act so differently and separate from his wife. The implied tone in her words was negative. She put down Moshe and accused him of acting ‘holier than thou’. Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam, were than summoned by Hashem and Hashem defended Moshe Rabeinu by explaining to them that Moshe Rabeinu was indeed on such a level that justified his acting as he did. Hashem then punished Miriam by afflicting her with leprosy.
We could perhaps somehow understand that Miriam should have been chastised for speaking in a negative fashion about Moshe Rabeinu. Hashem, however, doesn’t tell her that she was being punished for that reason. Rather, Hashem rebukes her by asking her why she wasn’t afraid to speak negatively about Moshe (12, 8). The issue here, it would seem, is not so much with the ‘Loshon haroh’ (disparaging speech), but rather just the fact that Miriam and Aharon lacked fear – that they weren’t afraid to disparage Moshe Rabeinu.
As much is there is a prohibition to talk negatively of others, there may at times be a necessity to do so. Sometimes, in order to protect or to correct someone, it may become necessary to speak disparagingly about another. Sometimes someone’s wrongdoings need to be discussed between some people on some level.
Generally our evil inclination functions in one of two ways: either it tempts us so much so that we are willing to sin even though we know and understand that by yielding to our temptation we will be succumbing to great sin; or it confuses us by allowing us to think that wrong things are really right. Thus sometimes we sin thinking (or rationalizing) that we are acting virtuously.
Chazal tell us not to trust ourselves until the day of our death. This advice from Chazal is for everyone – regardless of how great one may be. The idea is that we are all susceptible to sin. No one, no matter at what level, is immune from sin. Thus, logic would dictate that even someone as great as Moshe Rabban shel Kol Yisroel could succumb to Chet. Just because he was a great man and the leader of Israel does not mean he could not make a mistake.
Miriam, Moshe’s older sister, played an important role in his upbringing. Not only did she feel a great kinship to Moshe Rabeinu, but she too was a prophet, and hence felt she understood Moshe Rabeinu’s greatness. There are no doubts that Miriam’s motivations were noble: she was possibly deeply concerned about the well-being of Moshe Rabeinu’s wife Tzipora, as well as with right and wrong. She may have believed that it was incumbent upon her to rectify somehow what she viewed as a great mistake on Moshe Rabeinu’s part. For this Hashem didn’t blame Miriam. The issue was her attitude: the fact that she didn’t think twice, that she wasn’t afraid to ‘badmouth’ Moshe Rabeinu.
Very often in life we are faced with confusing decisions to make. Not always are things so black and white. Sometimes it can be immensely confusing to differentiate right from wrong. Hashem doesn’t have any claims against us for having such confusions. The claim that Hashem all too often has against us is the lack of fear we have when approaching such decisions.