Beha’alosecha 5778

Salvation for those who stumble in loshon hara[1]

ותדבר מרים ואהרן במשה על-אדות האשה הכשית אשר לקח כי-אשה כשית לקח
Miriam and Aharon spoke about Moshe regarding the Cushite woman he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman[2]

Miriam and Aharon felt that Moshe wasn’t treating his wife properly, and they discussed the matter between themselves[3]. While they had positive intentions, their facts were incorrect. As a result, their discussion was deemed loshon hara, evil speech[4]. The Torah describes[5] that Miriam was stricken with tzaraas, a leprous-like malady which results from loshon hara[6]. There’s no mention that Aharon was punished. This is odd, as both of them were discussing Moshe. Some say[7] that in fact, Aharon was stricken with tzaraas. This is inferred from the fact that the Torah says[8] that Hashem was angry at them, meaning both Miriam and Aharon. The reason the Torah only mentions Miriam getting tzaraas is because Aharon was quickly healed from this condition[9]. Why was he healed so quickly, while Miriam had to wait seven days before she recovered[10]?

Another story involving loshon hara is between Yosef and his brothers. He felt they were acting inappropriately, and told his father what they were doing[11]. He also had positive intentions, but his facts were incorrect[12]. Yosef’s brothers felt he needed to be stopped, and they threw him in a pit. The Torah says that the pit was empty of water[13]. However, it was filled with snakes and scorpions[14]. This is because the sin of loshon hara is connected to the snake in the Garden of Eden, who spoke loshon hara about G-d[15]. How did Yosef survive the snakes?

There’s a concept[16] that our forefather Avraham protects those who speak loshon hara[17]. As well, the gemarra says[18] that a remedy for loshon hara is learning Torah. There’s an amazing hint to these two ideas from a verse which says[19]: מלשני בסתר רעהו אותו אצמית, he who slanders his friend in secret I will destroy. The first letters spell אברם, Avraham’s name without the letter ה. This verse indicates that someone who speaks loshon hara will be cut off. However, Avraham, whose name has the extra ה, protects those who speak loshon hara. This extra letter ה, which has the numerical value of five, represents the five books of the Torah. By learning Torah, Avraham will protect those who spoke loshon hara.

According to this, we can explain how Yosef survived the snakes, despite having spoken loshon hara about his brothers. Yaakov for sure was aware that his son Yosef had slandered his brothers. Nevertheless, he still loved him, as the verse calls him[20] Yaakov’s בן זקונים, child of his old age. But it also means his most scholarly son[21]. Yosef was Yaakov primary student, and therefore knew the most Torah. Yaakov knew that Yosef’s Torah would protect him[22]. However, Yosef’s brothers didn’t realize that the Torah protected those who spoke loshon hara[23], and therefore[24] threw him into the pit filled with snakes. Yosef was saved because of the Torah he had learned, and as well was shielded by Avraham. This is hinted to in the verse itself, which when describing the pit says[25], הבור ריק אין בו מים, the pit was empty and didn’t have water. The first letters spell out Avraham’s name.

This also explains why Aharon was immediately healed from his tzaraas, unlike Miriam. Even though they both spoke loshon hara, Aharon was one of the leaders of the Jewish people who taught Torah[26]. This merit helped him recover very quickly[27]. Miriam, despite her good deeds and leadership status, didn’t have this merit[28]. She therefore had to wait seven days to recover. Good Shabbos

[1] Based on Toras Moshe III to Numbers 12:1, taken from the sefer Shir Maon (understood to be written by the Chasam Sofer’s grandson Rav Shimon Sofer)

[2] Numbers loc. cit.

[3] See Rashi ad. loc.

[4] See Chofetz Chaim Hilchos Loshon Hara 10:2, that for permission to speak loshon hara, even with positive intentions, the facts have to be determined to be one-hundred percent true

[5] ibid verse 10

[6] Arachin 16; Vayikra Rabbah 16:1

[7] Rabbi Akiva in Shabbos 97a. However, Rabbi Yehudah ben Beseira disagrees

[8] ibid verse 9. Rabbi Yehudah ben Beseira says that Hashem simply rebuked Aharon, but he wasn’t punished. I’m not sure how he explains why Aharon avoided punishment. Maharsha ad. loc. says it’s because he didn’t instigate the conversation, unlike Miriam (Sifrei Bamidbar § 99, brought by Rashi to verse 1), but I don’t know why that’s sufficient, since regardless he spoke loshon hara

[9] This is learned from the words ויפן אהרן, and Aharon turned (ibid verse 10). Meaning, he turned from his condition and was healed

[10] Avos DeRabbi Nosson 9:2 explains it’s because Miriam instigated the conversation, whereas Aharon didn’t. The Maharsha loc. cit. also says this

[11] Genesis 37:2

[12] See Shnei Luchos HaBris III Torah SheBekesav parshas Mikeitz s.v. ויבא יוסף

[13] Genesis 37:24

[14] Shabbos 22a; Bereishis Rabbah 84:16

[15] The Shir Maon says that Rashi explains snakes come as punishment for loshon hara. I couldn’t find this Rashi; the closest one I found is to Exodus 4:3. The Shir Maon adds that that the brothers threw Yosef in the pit with snakes as punishment for his loshon hara, however the Mizrachi ad. loc. asks if this is true why did Reuven think he could save Yosef, as he was surely already dead? Therefore, he says that the brothers didn’t know there were snakes in the pit

[16] “הובא בספרים”, although I don’t know which seforim say this. I don’t really understand this concept. Later, the Shir Maon refers to it as the שם אברהם, the name of Avraham. That’s what protects those who speak loshon hara. I don’t know what he means by that

[17] This comes from the fact that loshon hara is associated with the three cardinal sins, murder, idol worship and illicit relations, as all four are referred to as גדול (Arachin 15b). Avraham is also called גדול (Joshua 14:15, see Rashi ad. loc.). This is also hinted to in the verse where loshon hara is referred to this way: לשון מדברת גדולות (Psalms 12:4). The first letters spell גמל, which refers to bestowing upon others. This is Avraham’s main trait, גמילות חסדים

[18] Arachin loc. cit.

[19] Psalms 101:5

[20] Genesis 37:3

[21] Targum Onkelos ad. loc. translates it as בר חכים, the wise son. This could come from the fact that Chazal say זקן, זה שקנה חכמה, a זקן is someone who acquired wisdom (Kiddushin 32b)

[22] Yaakov also gave Yosef the כתנת פסים (Genesis loc. cit.), just like the כתונת of the Kohen Gadol atones for loshon hara (Arachin 16a)

[23] This is what Bereishis Rabbah loc. cit. means when it says נתרוקן בורו של יעקב, אין בו דברי תורה שנמשלו למים, that the children of Yaakov were lacking Torah. Really, they didn’t realize the Torah Yosef learned would protect him in the pit

[24] See note 15

[25] Genesis 37:24

[26] See Eruvin 54b

[27] The Shir Maon brought this answer as a side point, which might explain why he doesn’t mention Avraham here

[28] Although she for sure learned Torah for herself, she was considered אינה מצווה ועושה