15 Sep 2016 Parshas Ki Seitzei – Remember in Order to Learn
In this week’s parsha, Parshas Ki Seitzei, amongst the myriad of mitzvos commanded to the Bnei Yisrael, the Torah commands us regarding the actions of Miriam ha’Neviah. We are specifically instructed to remember what Hashem did to Miriam, namely, that this righteous and holy women was stricken for speaking to Aharon about Moshe.
זכור את אשר עשה ה׳ אלקיך למרים בדרך בצאתכם ממצרים – Remember what Hashem, your G-d, did to Miriam on the way when you came out of Egypt (Devarim 24:9).
Rashi teaches: זכור את אשר עשה ה’ אלהיך למרים. אם באת להזהר שלא תלקה בצרעת, אל תספר לשון הרע זכור העשוי למרים שדברה באחיה ולקתה בנגעים – If you wish to be careful not to be stricken with tzara’as, do not speak lashon ha’rah (slanderous speech). Remember what was done to Miriam, who spoke about her brother, Moshe, and she was stricken with the affliction.
If righteous Miriam, Miriam the leader of the women, Miriam the prophetess, Miriam who had unwavering faith in the Almighty (see Shemos 15:20 with Rashi there), was stricken for speaking about Moshe – and her intentions were pure and good – what a lesson we are to take! Remember well, says the Torah, the consequences for speaking ill of others.
Rav Shamshon Rafael Hirsch writes (Devarim 24:9), “This (command) is a warning to always remember what happened to Miriam the Prophetess, who had a private conversation with her brother Aharon, concerning their brother, Moshe (see Bamidbar 12). This conversation was not free of slander and conceit, and for this reason she was ‘touched’ by the finger of G-d and marked with a negah (affliction) in the sight of the entire nation…
“This warning reminds one of the grave responsibility that one bears for every word that borders on lashon ha’rah, which was not overlooked by Heaven even in Miriam’s case, even though she did not speak with bad intention.”
In these powerful days of Elul, the holy and awesome month of return and repentance, we must be ever cognizant of the power of our words. In his Sefer Kuntres Chovas HaShemirah, the Chafetz Chaim zt’l teaches that with words we can build worlds and with words, we can destroy worlds.
The Chafetz Chaim teaches that in Michah (7:5) we read: שְׁמֹר פִּתְחֵי פִיךָ – Guard the entrances of your mouth. “Hence, we see that man’s mouth is likened to an entrance or doorway. Now, just as the doorway of a house requires watchfulness and care, so that it should not be always open, in order to keep out unwanted and unpleasant guests, so does man’s mouth need first-rate watchfulness to keep harmful agents or forces from infiltrating – especially since the Evil Inclination constantly lurks at the entrances of the mouth inviting a person to sin. For this reason, a person must take great care when he opens his mouth to speak. And when he has a grievance in his heart against someone, it is better for him to keep him mouth locked and sealed, so that he should speak no slander against his fellow-man.”
The Chafetz Chaim was once a Shabbos guest in a certain home in the town of Yedvabne, in the Lomza province. Just as the Chafetz Chaim was about to wash for seuda shlishis, the third Shabbos meal, he heard the host, Reb Feivel, speaking words of slander to his own wife, about the town butcher. Without a moment’s hesitation, the Chafetz Chaim fled the home!
When the Reb Feivel realized the guest had left, he quickly went looking for him, and found him sitting at the table of a neighbor, having the third Shabbos meal there. In perplexity, Reb Feivel asked the visitor why he left. The Chafetz Chaim explained that to his regret, he could not remain in Reb Feivel’s home. “Look,” he said. “If you have a complaint against the town butcher, it concerns our religious laws on what is forbidden and what is permitted. You have the ability to summon him to your local rabbi and have it out with him; or you can rebuke him privately, between the two of you; but it is not something to tell your wife. That is evil gossip! Here I am traveling about to sell a volume on the subject of how to be aware of lashon ha’rah. How can I allow myself hospitality in a house where sins of this kind are being committed?”
זכור את אשר עשה ה׳ אלקיך למרים בדרך בצאתכם ממצרים – Remember what Hashem, your G-d, did to Miriam on the way when you came out of Egypt.
Remember what she did and spoke and recall that Hashem is exacting in regard to slanderous speech, even when it emanates from the mouth of a holy person. How much more so, G-d forbid, if it comes from our mouths!
R’ Soloveitchik zt’l teaches, “If you want to know what lashon ha’rah is, whatever you enjoy when you talk about someone else is lashon ha’rah.”
May we be cognizant of our words, may we be ever on guard in the ongoing battle against the yetzer ha’rah (evil inclination), and may we be worthy that no one would ever feel the need to flee from before us due to poisonous speech.
בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,