לזכות חיים יוא־ל בן ארי־ה משׁה הלוי
Our parsha contains the most well known incidence of lashon hara and tzaras– Miriam speaking about Moshe. Before any discussion of this incident can be undertaken, it is imperative to understand that Miriam was among the greatest prophets ever and that due to her lofty level, she was held to an extremely exacting standard. There is not a single meforesh that explains that Miriam ever intended harm to Moshe. In fact, most explain that Miriam’s intentions were constructive. Nonetheless, she was taken to task for not living up to her potential.
The Chofetz Chaim wrote five seforim addressing the halachos and hashkafos of lashon hara: Sefer Chofetz Chaim, Sefer Shmiras HaLashon-chelek alef, Sefer Shmiras HaLashon-chelek beis, Chovos HaShmirah, and Kuntres Zachor LeMiriam. The Kuntres Zachor LeMiriam focuses to a large extent on the mitzvah to remember what Hashem did to Miriam. According to most opinions, we have a daily obligation to remember this by reading, out loud, the pasuk (found in most sedurim at the end of shacharis): זָכ֕וֹר אֵ֧ת אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂ֛ה יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ לְמִרְיָ֑ם בַּדֶּ֖רֶךְ בְּצֵֽאתְכֶ֥ם מִמִּצְרָֽיִם Remember what Hashem your G-d did to Miriam on the way when you were coming out of Egypt. In the first perek of Zachor LeMiriam, the Chofetz Chaim provides five reasons why people don’t always see the full benefit of saying this pasuk:
1. People often don’t appreciate or understand that they suffer from the malady of lashon hora, and since they don’t realize this, they do not seek to be cured from it.
2. Even those who verbalize the zechirah of Miriam don’t think deeply about it and don’t try to understand the depth of bitterness that Miriam experienced after this incident.
3. People look at others who are scrupulous to say the pasuk daily and assume that it does not help since they still see them speaking lashon hora.
4. Many don’t understand that in order to remedy their improper speech, they need to take the steps to uncover the root causes of their own lashon hara (the Chofetz Chaim provides a list of these causes in Sefer Shmiras HaLashon: anger, cynicism, arrogance, futility, negativity, and rationalization).
5. People think that their lashon hora is so entrenched that they believe they will never be successful in removing their yetzer hara in this regard.
The Chofetz Chaim provides advice for how to get past these five barriers. His advice is well known to us: עֲקַבְיָא בֶן מַהֲלַלְאֵל אוֹמֵר, הִסְתַּכֵּל בִּשְׁלשָׁה דְבָרִים וְאִי אַתָּה בָא לִידֵי עֲבֵרָה. דַּע מֵאַיִן בָּאתָ, וּלְאָן אַתָּה הוֹלֵךְ, וְלִפְנֵי מִי אַתָּה עָתִיד לִתֵּן דִּין וְחֶשְׁבּוֹן. Akivah ben Mehalelel said Gaze at three things and you will not come to sin: Know from where you came, and to where you are going, and before whom you will stand in judgment and provide an accounting. The Chofetz Chaim provides several insights into each of these three concepts. We will only focus on one insight for each of them.
Know from where you came. In addition to the insight with which most of us are familiar — that we come from a putrid drop, the Chofetz Chaim accentuates the positive. He explains that although man is physical–like all other creations– he has a soul that is divine–מִן הַשָׁמַיּם . We are lofty beings and when we remember that, we will be careful not to besmirch ourselves with lashon hara and not to disparage our fellow man, each of whom possesses a divine soul.
Know where you are going. The Chofetz Chaim points out that the language here is in the present tense. It’s not “know where you will end up”, it’s “know where you are going, right now”. Every day we are aging, moving closer to the day when we will leave this world and return to dust. If so, what possible arrogance (the primary root of lashon hara and all sins) can we have? Our physicality and physical possessions? These are amortizing, decreasing in value, every day.
Before whom you will stand in judgment and provide an accounting. There is no hiding or rationalization before Hashem. The Chofetz Chaim explains that each of us will have to give an accounting for every word we have spoken, particularly for speech that is forbidden: lashon hara, rechilus, deceptive speech, harmful words, lies, false flattery, words that publicly embarrass others, and words that create or sustain machlokes.
The Chofetz Chaim summarizes the mishna: when we focus on these three things, we will not be ensnared by the middah of gaivah- arrogance, שֶׁהִיא רֵשִׁית לְכָל חֵטְא which is the primary cause of all sin. The Chofetz Chaim concludes that man should also focus on the tremendous kindness that Hashem extends to him throughout his entire life and then he will be happy with his lot. When we are happy with what we have — with what we have been gifted– we will not be worried that others have more, and we won’t look to bring others down through negative speech.
THE TAKEAWAY: We are required to remember what Hashem did to Miriam for speaking improperly. People don’t always get the full benefit of this mitzva because: they don’t realize how deficient their own speech is, they say the words without getting a deeper understanding of them, they look at others who say the pasuk but still speak lashon hara, they don’t investigate the root causes of their improper speech, or they believe that their improper speech is so entrenched that they cannot repair it. By thinking about the purity of our souls and those of our fellow Jews, understanding that we have nothing to be arrogant about, and remembering that we will have to provide an accounting for every word we speak, we will arouse ourselves to fight the yetzer hara for improper speech.
THIS WEEK: The Chofetz Chaim points out that if we think about the three things discussed in the mishna above, we will distance ourselves from sin. But, he also says that each one on their own can divert us from sin. Read this short Mishna (Pirkei Avos 3:1) daily this week and take a moment to think about which of these three things speak to you the most. Set a reminder/alarm for yourself to stop and think about this particular aspect at least once during your day.
Shmira Bashavua will be published as a sefer containing several lessons from each parsha. For sefer sponsorship opportunities or to sponsor the weekly parsha sheet, please contact David Linn at firstname.lastname@example.org