Commentary, discussion, analysis, criticism, expert's
opinion, condemnation where leniency is allowed -- all these
In this week's portion we find the principle origin of the
prohibition of loshon hora. "And Miriam and Aharon
spoke about Moshe -- and lo! Miriam is leprous as snow." The
Torah commands us: "Remember what Hashem your G-d did to
Miriam. Heed yourself in the matter of the leprous lesion to
be very watchful and to do." From here we learn the
obligation to remember that evil speech is liable to bring
tzoraas and to guard ourselves against it.
The Torah chose to teach this dreadful lesson precisely
through tzaddikim, for Hashem is punctilious with
them to the hairsbreadth. Miriam the prophetess did not
intend to denigrate Moshe, her brother, the holy one of
Hashem. Indeed, she risked her life for him when he was an
infant, placed in the reeds. Still, all of her righteousness
and merit did not stand her by and she was punished most
drastically. What then can we puny ones say who wag our
tongues in evil gossip against our peers?
Here there arises a difficult question: Why was Miriam's
remark about her brother considered loshon hora to
begin with? The negative aspect of loshon hora lies
in the fact that it causes damage to the other party, the
object of the gossip. But here, the Torah hastens to testify
that: And the man Moshe was exceedingly humble, more than
any other man. Thus, whatever was said about him could not
have caused him any distress or pain. Why, then, is it
considered so serious?
Furthermore, Rashi says that Aharon participated in this
evil gossip equally, as the verses bear out, but since
Miriam initiated the talk, she is blamed. The gemora
tells that Aharon was also stricken with leprosy. Which
brings us to ask: We establish that Miriam heard from
Tzipora that Moshe Rabbenu had divorced her and she told
this to Aharon. But to whom did Aharon tell this that he was
thus punished? Not to Miriam, since she already knew it. How
can we label Aharon a gossipmonger?
Maran HaRav Yitzchok Hutner zt'l provides the answer,
which lends a fundamental and deep insight to the entire
subject of loshon hora and its prohibition. He splits
the famous hairs, as it were, over the very wording of the
prohibition as dealt with briefly in Rabbenu Yonah's
Shaarei Tshuva (215): "And one who talks loshon
hora is guilty on two points: 1) the damage and
embarrassment which he causes his fellow man; and 2) his
choice to condemn and blame his friend, and his satisfaction
in the latter's downfall."
Pachad Yitzchok divides this sin into two categories
with fine distinctions: the first is whereby the
establishment of disgrace through the telling is clear-cut
and obvious. The second kind of loshon hora is where
establishing the fact of disgrace that Reuven tells of
Shimon is an outcome of discussion and passing judgment,
only then resulting in the censure.
These two kinds of evil speech are completely different
because the rules forbidding loshon hora are defined
in the words, "Who `spies' upon his neighbor." Rochil
is equivalent to rigul. The commandment, "You shall
not go gossipmongering in the midst of your people" means
observing and bearing tales, which is essentially spying.
This category has two stages: finding another's weak point
and then revealing it to an enemy. Loshon hora also
has two stages: the actual discussion of a neighbor's act
and passing a negative judgment where halacha
determines that one should judge favorably. This is
rigul since one is seeking to condemn another's acts
and looking for his weak spots, whereas he should be
condoning them. This is the ultimate evil of this type of
In the second stage, where the shame is clear and evident,
the act of rigul involves spreading the word abroad,
exposing the weakness and wrongdoing.
Pachad Yitzchok concludes: Surely Miriam's act was of
the first type of loshon hora. Her fault lay in
failing to judge Moshe favorably. Certainly, with all of
Moshe Rabbenu's merits, one should have sought only the good
side, the proper rationale for his act. The worthier the
accused, the more a judge must seek to acquit him.
Now we can understand how the sin of loshon hora
included Aharon as well. He did not say anything to Miriam
that she didn't already know, but he did acquiesce to her
judgment and criticism. It made no difference that Moshe was
exceedingly humble and that he was not distressed or
insulted by what others said of him, for the error was
theirs; they should have judged him favorably.
These words are very obligatory and binding. The implication
is that even if an event was publicized and even if in
circulating it further there is no element of rigul,
that is, revelation of the other person's weakness after it
has already been made public, still in all, the chewing it
over, the discussion, interpretation, taking sides,
criticism and the final passing of negative judgment where
halachically one should be lenient and forgiving -- this
does constitute rigul.
"For there is in the condemnation of a fellow man, contrary
to what the law requires, an act of ferreting the faults and
failings of another and a determination of his weak points.
And there is no aspect of rigul worse than this!"