Speech in Judaism: Praise and Moshe Rabbenu

Over Shovuos, I read a very interesting insight in the Artscroll Mesorah book about Shovuos’ observance, laws and customs. The book mentioned that traditionally, you are not only forbidden from speaking ill of someone (lashon hara; see my post on Miriam and Parshas Beha’aloscha), but you are also not supposed to praise them in their absence.

This may sound strange, but the reasoning is pretty sound. Listing someone’s good traits or deeds when they are not around enables the person you are speaking to to say, “Oh, he’s not so great,” or “You make him out to be better than he is!”. Pretty much instantly, glorification and praise can turn to lashon hara. It’s probably the most dangerous sin, because it’s so easy to spread rumours or gossip without even meaning to. Now, I don’t think we can expect everyone to live this way- it’s really, really hard to avoid heaping praise on someone you admire!- but we should at least keep this in mind, and perhaps avoid talking about someone in this way when we know the listener disagrees.

Considering this led me to think about the praise which is- or isn’t- given to Moshe Rabbenu in the Torah. Very little is said about Moshe’s personality. His leadership skills aren’t actually discussed that much, and we certainly don’t hear him being glorified! What we do hear, however, is that Moshe was extremely humble. Perhaps this is the greatest praise of all; humility is a massively valued trait in Judaism, and perhaps it’s also the reason why there isn’t further praise or discussion of his good nature. Being an extraordinarily humble man, Moshe Rabbenu wouldn’t’ve wanted to hear such things.

We can’t know for sure why the Torah treats Moshe Rabbenu this way, but it’s certainly interesting. And while we search for the answers, practicing humility, and thinking carefully before we speak- even to praise!- would be a good step towards acting in a way that b’nei Melech should.

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