20 Jun 2019 Parshas Beha’aloscha: Do We THINK?
At the end of a dramatic parsha, filled with triumph and hope on the one hand (וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה לְחֹבָב בֶּן-רְעוּאֵל הַמִּדְיָנִי חֹתֵן מֹשֶׁה, נֹסְעִים אֲנַחְנוּ אֶל-הַמָּקוֹם – And Moshe said to his father-in-law: we are traveling to the place that Hashem said, “to you I will give it!” In three days, we – all of us — will enter the Holy Land! Come with us and it will be good for you [Bamidbar 10:29 w/ Rashi]) and complaints and arguments on the other hand (זָכַרְנוּ, אֶת-הַדָּגָה, אֲשֶׁר-נֹאכַל בְּמִצְרַיִם, חִנָּם; אֵת הַקִּשֻּׁאִים, וְאֵת הָאֲבַטִּחִים, וְאֶת-הֶחָצִיר וְאֶת-הַבְּצָלִים, וְאֶת-הַשּׁוּמִים – and the Israelites complained and they said: “We remember the fish we ate in Egypt for free [free from the mitzvos! note the Sages], and the cucumbers, and melons and the leeks, onions and garlic!” How good it was for us in the land of slavery, in the land of Egypt! Would that we never have left [11:5]), the parsha closes with the story of Miriam, Aharon and Moshe.
וַתְּדַבֵּר מִרְיָם וְאַהֲרֹן בְּמֹשֶׁה, עַל-אֹדוֹת הָאִשָּׁה הַכֻּשִׁית אֲשֶׁר לָקָח: כִּי-אִשָּׁה כֻשִׁית, לָקָח – And Miriam and Aharon spoke about Moshe, because of the Cushite woman that he took, for he took a Cushite woman (12:1). The details of the conversation, and why they spoke about Moshe, are explained by the commentators. However, one thing is clear: Miriam and Aharon spoke lashon harah (slanderous speech) about Moshe. For this sin, at the end of the perek (chapter), Miriam is stricken with tzaraas and sent out of the camp to dwell in isolation, while Moshe prayed for her recovery and the entire nation waited for her healing, for seven days.
Her punishment was swift and harsh. Even though she meant for the good, nevertheless, the Torah teaches us that the slightest breach in lashon harah is forbidden. As Rashi teaches: וּמַה מִּרְיָם שֶׁלֹּא נִתְכַּוְּנָה לִגְנוּתוֹ כָּךְ נֶעֶנְשָׁה, קַל וָחֹמֶר לִמְסַפֵּר בִּגְנוּתוֹ שֶׁל חֲבֵרוֹ – Now if Miriam, who did not intend to speak of his disparagement, was thus punished, how much more so one who speaks of the disparagement of his fellow (he will surely be punished) (Rashi to Bamidbar 12:1).
As a result of this grave sin, one of the shesh zechiros (six remembrances a person is to remember daily, often recited at the end of tefillas shachris) is zechiras Miriam – remember Miriam. What are we to remember? זָכוֹר, אֵת אֲשֶׁר-עָשָׂה ה’ אֱלֹקיךָ לְמִרְיָם, בַּדֶּרֶךְ, בְּצֵאתְכֶם מִמִּצְרָיִם – Remember what Hashem your G-d did to Miriam, on the way when you were leaving Egypt (Devarim 24:9).
If the tongue, perhaps, is the most oft utilized organ in the human body, it is also, sadly, the one we tend to think the least about. All too often, the tongue seems to move, speak and spew words of its own will and volition…
Did I really just say that? we think; Was I really unable to hold back? we wonder; Did my words cause pain and embarrassment to my fellow; we ponder?
And yet, that soul searching may be the best case scenario! For even more often than that, we speak without even a moment’s consideration, without a minute of regret, without a second of remorse or shame for what we have said.
To speak and regret is one thing. To speak and not even think is another entirely.
Dovid Ha’Melech teaches us (Tehillim 34:13-15): מִי-הָאִישׁ, הֶחָפֵץ חַיִּים; אֹהֵב יָמִים, לִרְאוֹת טוֹב – Who is the man who desires life, who loves days, to see good? נְצֹר לְשׁוֹנְךָ מֵרָע; וּשְׂפָתֶיךָ, מִדַּבֵּר מִרְמָה – guard your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit; סוּר מֵרָע, וַעֲשֵׂה-טוֹב בַּקֵּשׁ שָׁלוֹם וְרָדְפֵהוּ – turn away from bad and do good, seek peace and chase after it.
On this passage, R’ S. R. Hirsch writes (Hirsch commentary to Tehillim), “It is significant that the instruction in the practical application of the fear of G-d begins with the behest that we exercise control over our words, and, as we shall see, even over our thoughts. For speech and thought are activities which we constantly practice. Hence, there is no better task that we can set for ourselves, leading to the fear of G-d than to resolve before Him alone never to speak ill of one’s fellow-men. The fulfillment of this one task requires constant self-observation and affords a unique opportunity for practice in attaining that control over oneself which is the essential basis of all G-d fearing, moral endeavor…
“Therefore, our training course in the fear of G-d must begin with practice in the control of the thought which, though still unuttered, is already being mulled over by the tongue. We must keep our tongue far away from anything that is רָע – morally or socially evil, and sincerity shall be the stamp of our speech, of the words that we do utter. In instances where we really know of nothing good to say, we must practice the difficult art of keeping silent.”
A few years ago, the following acronym for the word THINK occurred to me. Once memorized, it can be quick and easy to run through before speaking to – or of – another.
T.H.I.N.K. Is what I am about to say: Thoughtful. Helpful and Humble. Interesting, Important, Intelligent. Necessary. Kind?
While I do not always remember to run through the “THINK” checklist before I speak, sometimes I do. If it is all of the above, we can feel confident our speech is positive… And if it none of the above, “we must practice the difficult art of keeping silent”.
In our day and age of technology, the “spoken” word, when translated into the virtual word, has more power than ever. Our words can now reach across cities, countries, and continents, in literal mere seconds. We must be ever more vigilant to be sure that our speech is helpful, positive, and peace-seeking.
In a time when typing words on our devices occurs at practically the speed of light, and pressing ‘send’ occurs faster than the speed of sound, we must remember well the sin of Miriam! If the tzadekes was stricken for speaking ill – albeit well-intentioned! – of her brother, how much more so, Chazal warn us, of man who speaks badly about – or to – his fellow.
May we find the courage to always see the good, speak good, and THINK before we utter, or type, the hundreds (nay, thousands) of words we create daily.
בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,