VOLUME 96 NUMBER 3
May 28, 2021
SIVAN 17, 5781
Candlelighting Time 8:01 PM
The Torah describes Moshe as the humblest person of all. He was not insulted if others spoke ill of him. Nonetheless, when Miriam and Aron made comments about his separation from his wife in his presence, they were severely castigated by Hashem. Moshe, due to his elevated status of prophecy needed to maintain a level of purity unknown to others. His incessant line of communication with Hashem required an unusual and strict regimen which other prophets did not need to adhere to. Therefore, when his siblings remarked to him that his conduct with his wife seemed unnecessary, they actually demeaned his level of sanctity and compared him to other prophets, ostensibly inoffensive but degrading due to his superior level of prophecy.
Indeed, our Sages take note of their criticism and explain that actually they were attempting to ease his situation allowing him to live with his wife in an accepted manner. However, although they were not endeavoring to disrespect him, in the final analysis that was the outcome of their observation.
Maharal, in discussing the prohibition of slander, writes that if one defames another in that very person’s presence, then he has not transgressed the prohibition of slandering his fellow man. He bases this upon a dictum in the Talmud that seems to clearly state that if one directly slanders another then he has not transgressed the Torah’s prohibition.
Chofetz Chaim in his seminal work on the laws of slander takes exception to this ruling because the incident involving Miriam and Aron occurred in Moshe’s presence, yet our Sages explain that Hashem condemned their conduct nonetheless.
Rav Hutner, former Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Chaim Berlin answers the Chofetz Chaim’s question with a very insightful understanding of this prohibition. There are two diverse applications of slander. One is where the asserted shortcoming is evident, only exposing the inadequacy is lacking. The other case is the slanderer misconstrues the avowed imperfection of another. In the first scenario, the prohibited speech is only committed upon its dissemination, because of its straightforward assault upon the person, the victim has the opportunity to respond immediately and invalidate the claim made against him. Therefore, we can’t define the statement as an absolute evil. Only as the attacker divulges his information can we categorize his action as malicious. However, where the declamation is judgmentally flawed, as in the second situation, then the prohibited speech is immediate as the verbal assault begins.
Maharal’s vindication of potentially evil speech addresses the first type of verbal assault where the alleged flaw of the victim is visible and discernible. Only revelation of such information is the issue because the injurious claim can be promptly rebuffed. When Miriam and Aron accused Moshe of inappropriate conduct, they misjudged his status as a prophet and therefore their prohibited speech was immediate in contrast to the case of Maharal.
The laws pertaining to slander are vast and complex as we have seen. Therefore, we must always be certain that our speech is clean, productive and promotive of a healthy, wholesome life.
A BYTE FOR SHABBOS
In previous generations our communities were less scattered, therefore assimilation was less prevalent. Throughout the ages, we have experienced galus in its fullest and we are more prone to alien cultures and concepts snaking into our midst. Therefore, we need to be more vigilant and alert as we attempt to instill Judaic values into our children.