Parshas Beha’aloscha: Miriam, lashon hara and the power of speech

I wrote this article when we were reading Parshas Beha’aloscha, and thought that it was worth exporting it to this new website!

In short; Miriam, the sister of Moshe Rabbeinu (Or Moses, as most call him!) is guilty of directing lashon hara (evil speech) towards him, and is punished with a tza’arath (lesion), before being excluded from the camp of the Israelites for a week. It’s a well known incident, and I learned about it from this great article by Daniel Listhaus;

I find the incident fascinating, and it brings me to the topic of lashon hara, which plays on my mind time and time again. Why is it such a serious sin?

I think lashon hara is closely intertwined with a subject I touched upon in an earlier post, “what we can learn from the Rebbetzin OBM”- shaming someone. Humiliating your fellow man is a grave sin, and I feel that speaking ill of him is part of that. Even if the person you speak of isn’t present, it still brings shame upon his name. Interestingly, it is frowned upon to even lavish praise upon one who isn’t present; apparently, this presents the chance for someone else to say “he isn’t all that great,” which in turn leads to shaming, lashon hara, and, thus sin.

But we must also remember what lashon hara actually is; it’s speech. And why is speech so powerful? Surely, you say, it’s far worse to steal from someone, or hurt him? What’s with all this about humiliating your fellow, and lashon hara? Questions such as this are natural. And here’s an example of why speech is so crucial; G-d created the world through speech. Although the speech of a mere human doesn’t carry the power of His speech, it’s still pretty obvious from this that speech is very powerful. It can save lives or ruin them. It can build reputations or destroy them. It can salvage relationships, or break them apart. Isn’t that a powerful tool?

Like all powerful tools- knives, hammers, or even pneumatic drills!- we need to be careful with speech. If we watch what we say, and how we say it, perhaps we will find much more harmony in our everyday lives.


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