Miriam And Lashon Hara
Group Size: 10-50
Estimated Time: 45 minutes
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Goals: To learn about the life of Miriam; To think about the repercussions of what we say and how we say it – Lashon Hara.
Miriam, sister of Moshe and Aharon and leader in her own right – or the token bird in Torah? Let’s check out the life of Miriam and find out what she was all about…
As we found out when we learnt about Moshe Rabbeinu a few weeks ago, Miriam was born to Amram and Yocheved of Shevet Levi and had two brothers, Aharon and Moshe. As a child she enabled her mother to continue nursing her youngest brother Moshe after she watched after him and spoke to the daughter of Pharoh once Moshe had been discovered hiding in the reeds of the
Miriam then disappears from the text and we assume that she like the rest of Am Yisrael is busy under the slavery regime of the Mitzriyim (Egyptians). Her brothers get to work with the 10 mackot (plagues) and she pales into insignificance, until Bnei Yisrael make it through the Yam Suf. After Moshe leads Bnei Yisrael in song of praising Hashem we then suddenly have the following pesukim (verses):
20) Miriam the prophetess, Aharon’s sister, took the drum in her hand, and the women followed her with drums and dancing. 21) Miriam led them in response, “Sing to G-d for His great victory, horse and rider He cast in the sea.” (Shemot 15:20-21)
What do we learn here about Miriam?
Was she just a random or was there more to her?
Do you think she had a role in the leadership of Bnei Yisrael?
For me, the first thing that jumps out of these pesukim is the fact that Miriam is a prophetess – surprise! The second, slightly more bizarre, is that she is musical – does that have any relevance or importance, and would she be any good at karaoke…? Perhaps most interestingly though, is the role model she appears to be for all the women. Moshe has led the blokes in there song, and you can imagine all the ladies just standing around watching and probably checking out the talent… Suddenly, out of nowhere, Miriam jumps up, and not only do people not think she’s a mental person, but they are all inspired to follow her and join in her song and dance in praise of Hashem. What a star!!!
There is obviously far more to Miriam than meets the eye. In the first words of those pesukim she is called Miriam HaNavi’ah – Miriam the prophetess. It is a title that everyone (except us) seems aware of and content with. She is an important person, and not simply because she has ‘protectsia’ being the sister of Moshe and Aharon. She is a leader in her own right. In this brief scene, we see Miriam in a new light. She is someone that is able to appeal to the emotions of the people and to their creative side. She was so cool!
The next event where Miriam crops up is not so pleasant. We fast forward to Bamidbar (yep, there’s no mention of her in between), where in this week’s sidra, we see Miriam being a little bit naughty (or normal compared to us, depending on how you look at it)…
1) Miriam and Aharon began speaking against Moshe because of the dark-skinned woman he had married. The woman that he [Moshe] had married was indeed dark-skinned. 2) They [then went on to] say, “Is it to Moshe exclusively that G-d speaks? Doesn’t He also speak to us? G-d heard it. 3) Moshe, however, was very humble, more so than any other man on earth. 4) G-d suddenly said to Moshe, Aharon and Miriam, “All 3 of you go into the Tent of Meeting!” When the 3 of them went out, 5) G-d descended in a pillar of cloud and stood at the tent’s entrance. He summoned Aharon and Miriam and both of them went forward. 6) He [G-d] said, “Listen carefully to My words. If someone among you experiences Divine Prophecy, then I will make Myself known to him in a vision, I will speak to him in a dream. 7) This is not true of y servant, Moshe, who is like a trusted servant throughout My house. 8) With him I speak face to face, in a vision not containing allegory, so that he sees a true picture of G-d. How can you not be afraid to speak against My servant, Moshe?” 9) G-d displayed anger against them and departed. 10) When the cloud left its place over the tent, Miriam was leprous, white like snow… (Bamidbar 12:1-10)
Miriam’s sins and are punished with leprosy. Moshe appeals for her and after a week of quarantine she is healed and returns to the machane. Miriam dies in Kadesh during the last year of Bnei Yisrael’s journey through the midbar (wilderness). We learn after her death that the well of water that accompanied Am Yisrael over the years was in her z’chut (merit).
Miriam HaNavi’ah – Miriam the Prophetess
Lived 126 years (2362 – 2488)
Mentioned by name: 10 times
So what is it that Miriam does wrong?
This is one of the prime examples of Lashon Hara (literally evil speech). The artscroll Yom Kippur machzor in viduy expands on what the aveira of Lashon Hara actually is. “We have spread gossip and slander. To defame others is a grievous sin, even if the stories are true.” Indeed, as we see from the pesukim, Miriam was not in the wrong for making something up about Moshe’s wife, we are told that it was true. Her sin was talking about her and in a derogatory manner towards Moshe. The explanation in the machzor continues, “The Sages condemn talebearers in very sharp terms, saying that gossip is tantamount to denying G-d. The harm caused by gossip is incalculable. For example, by having described a person as extravagant or stingy, naïve or conniving, we have created an image that will affect him socially and economically.”
Lashon Hara is perhaps the most damaging way of using our mouth. Irrelevant of whether what we say is truth or lies, it is unnecessary and generally spreads like wildfire, twisting and changing from its original form as it goes. My advice – Squash that Losh!
Who is the man that desires life, who loves days of seeing good? Guard your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it (Tehillim 34: 13-15).
Is this the first and last time that speech is misused? - As if!!!
There are several places in Tanach where unlike here; the problem is not what is being said, but how it is being said. It seems that the big problem is often not the request of Am Yisrael; instead, it is the intention or wording. Here are just a few examples to make illustrate the point, but I’m sure you can come up with plenty more.
Life in the Midbar:
Bnei Yisrael’s whole existence in the wilderness was not normal! As we have mentioned already they only had to ask for something and their ‘wish was granted’. However, they were often very rude in the way they asked, forgetting themselves, showing very poor and inaccurate memories and coming out with the most ridiculous comments. For example, one day…
“…The Israelites began to weep again. ‘Who’s going to give us meat to eat?’ they demanded. ‘We fondly remember the fish that we could eat in
Bnei Yisrael could have easily said, “We’re a bit peckish, and fancy a shwarma.” But no, they had to be all whiny about it, and start complaining. As a result, after Hashem had sent the quails…
“The meat was still between their teeth when [the people] began to die. G-d’s anger was displayed against the people, and He struck them with an extremely severe plague.” (Bamidbar 11:33)
The 12 Spies:
“Hashem spoke to Moshe saying, ‘Send out men for yourself to explore the Canaanite territory that I am about to give the Israelites….’” (Bamidbar 13:1-2)
Hashem gave Bnei Yisrael the opportunity to check out
Moshe’s cousin, Korach had a valid question; he was wondering why certain people in his family had been given important roles, yet he seemed to have been overlooked. If this was something that concerned him, he could have inquired about it quite civilly. But, instead…
“Korach (and co.)… had a confrontation with Moshe… They demonstrated against Moshe and Aharon, and declared to them, ’You have gone too far! All the people in the community are holy, and G-d is with them. Why are you setting yourselves above G-d’s congregation?’” (Bamidbar 16:1-3)
We all know how this story ended. Korach and his mates went down – quite literally!
Speech is a very powerful tool! It can be used for so much good, yet at the same time, it can be the cause of much evil. We can gain so much from ‘stories’ in Tanach, and must look back and learn from past mistakes. This kvutsah carries a very topical message to us and our chanichim, about what we say and how we say it. This affects everyone, and it is something we must constantly strive to improve about ourselves.
So what can we learn from Miriam and this pe’ulah? THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK. Don’t put your mouth into motion, until your brain is in gear!
1. To learn about the life of Miriam
· Have a shteig, learn the texts where she pops up and compare them
· Court Case – put Miriam on trial. Worst bird ever, or a star that made one little mistake (and wasn’t the first or last to)? Bring in different witnesses to show the several aspects of her character and amazingness.
2. To consider other times in which the intention or wording of a request is the problem.
· Ask – split the kvutsah into a few groups and give each group a situation where there is a complaint/problem. Ask the groups to act out as many different approaches to asking for something as possible. Which is the most effective and why?
· Dingbats – what is the phrase and how do you go about putting it across.
3. To think about the repercussions of what we say and how we say it – Lashon Hara.
· Chinese whispers (telephone) – what a classic and so appropriate! Listen to how one short phrase can we twisted as it is passed on around the circle
· The moo game – just one little word, but oh the embarrassment it can cause. Send a volunteer who hasn’t played this before out the room and tell them they are judging a ‘moo competition’ (who can scream ‘moo’ the loudest) and that they should try to win. Tell the rest of the kvutsah the same except that on the third try no one should say anything and the poor volunteer will be left shouting ‘moo’ alone. So funny yet so sad.
· Taboo – A chanich is given a word that they need to give over to the rest of the kvutsah and a list of words that they are not allowed to use e.g. if the word is school, they can’t say lesson, teacher, work, break or exam (sorry to mention that one…)