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Torah Attitude: Parashas Ki Seitzei: Remember Miriam and repent

Summary

Miriam's tzaraas is a reminder for us to be extremely careful not to gossip about others. The primary cause for our current exile was baseless hatred which manifested itself through gossip and evil talk. In the month of Elul we repent and prepare ourselves for the Day of Judgment. Any calamity in a specific place is a punishment for that local population with a message for the rest of the world in general, and the Jewish people in particular. Remembering what Gideon said to the angel gives new meaning to the blessing of the new month when we pray for redemption.

Remember Miriam's tzaraas

In this week's Torah portion it says, (Devarim 24:8-9)"Beware of the affliction of tzaraas Remember what HASHEM your G'd did to Miriam on the way when you left Egypt." Rashi explains in the name of our sages that this verse refers to some critical remarks Miriam made to her brother Aaron regarding Moses as mentioned previously in the Torah (Bamidbar 12:10). The Ramban is of the opinion that this is one of the 248 positive commandments, to verbally remember the great punishment that G'd did to this righteous prophetess, despite that she had merely spoken about her brother whom she had lovingly taken care of. She did not even put Moses to shame since she did not speak in front of him. She only spoke to their brother Aaron. The Chofetz Chaim adds that in the merit of this great woman the entire Jewish nation was provided with water in the wilderness since the exodus from Egypt. Nevertheless, all of Miriam's merits and good intentions did not help her. The Ramban concludes that this comes to warn us to be extremely careful not to gossip about others for if this great woman was not spared, it is certain that others will not go without punishment. In fact, this reminder to guard our speech is one of the remembrances many people recite daily as printed in many prayer books (see Artscroll p.177).

Primary cause for exile

Not so long ago we observed Tisha B'Av commemorating the destruction of the Temples and the exile of the Jews that we continue to suffer from until today. The Chofetz Chaim explains that when the Talmud teaches (Yuma 9b) that the primary cause for our current exile was baseless hatred, it manifested itself through gossip and evil talk. It did not only cause the destruction and the exile at the time, but prolongs the exile and prevents the final redemption. He further elaborates that the seriousness of this transgression is due to the fact that besides causing rift and quarrels among individuals and whole communities, the Zohar explains (Shemos 264b) that gossiping down here on earth enables the prosecutor in the heavenly court to accuse individuals and whole communities regarding their evils and wrongdoings. This in turns brings G'd's wrath and can cause untold punishment upon all humanity.

Elul repent and prepare

We have entered the month of Elul, the month when we try to repent and prepare ourselves for the Day of Judgment. This year we do not need much imagination what Divine judgment is all about. The world has experienced an unusual number of natural catastrophes. A number of months ago the tidal waves of the Tsunami killed hundreds of thousands of people in the Far East. Whole communities were washed away and disappeared. In recent weeks, both Europe and North America have experienced unusual floodings. In New Orleans, the number of victims may exceed ten thousand.

Calamitous message

A number of suggestions have been made why G'd brought about such a disaster to New Orleans that has affected not only the local population but all of North America in many ways. Some point to the rampant immorality and corruption that flourishes there with a celebration of what G'd clearly defines as abominable, planned for the time the flooding took place. G'd expects us to learn from the past (see Rashi Devarim 19:17). The Torah clearly explains the corrupted lifestyle of the people as being one of the reasons for the flood in the time of Noah (see Bereishis 6:1-13). Others point to the fact that this destruction of a total city in the United States and the forced evacuation of its inhabitants come shortly after the United States lead the nations of the world forcing Israel to destroy Gush Katif and evacuate the settlers.

The truth is that it is beyond our ability to interpret the reason for these calamities but the general message is very clear. As our Patriarch Abraham said, there must be a Master who is in charge. There is, however, a problem when we suggest why G'd did this and point fingers in various directions. The story is told of a certain gentleman who went up to his rabbi after a sermon where the rabbi chastised his congregation: "You really gave it to them good and proper today" said the gentleman, totally ignoring that he himself was a member of the congregation and that the rabbi's words were as much directed to him as to everybody else.

Our sages have told us that although no doubt any calamity in a specific place is a punishment for that local population, there is always a message for the rest of the world in general and the Jewish people in particular. Rabbeinu Nisim Gerundi in Drashos Haran writes: "Sometimes things will happen in far away countries and in distant islands to awake the Jewish people to repent that they should fear and tremble that the punishment should not reach them. As the prophet Zephaniah says: (Zephaniah 3:6-7): "I cut down the nations, make desolate their towers, destroy their marketplaces I said so that you should fear Me and you should learn a lesson so that your place should not need to be cut down.' If the Jews do not get the message of the evils that happened already it will come closer to them. Whoever sees these happenings, that are real warnings from G'd, and nevertheless continues in his own ways is comparable to someone who was sinning and received a personal warning with all its dire consequences." These words, written hundreds of years ago, ring true today more than ever and are a clear wakeup call for everyone.

Beg for redemption

Every month the Shabbos before Rosh Chodesh we bless the new month and say, "He who performed miracles for our forefathers and redeemed them from slavery to freedom, may He redeem us soon and gather our dispersed from the four corners of the world. All Jews are friends and let us say Amen." This brings to mind what Gideon's said to the angel concerning the suffering of the Jews. He said (see Rashi on Judges 6:13): "If our ancestors were righteous, then G'd should help us in their merit. If our ancestors were evildoers, then G'd should help us just as He helped them, even without merits." In the same way we express "G'd you performed miracles for our forefathers and redeemed them from slavery. We beg You to redeem us, either in their merit or redeem us as you redeemed them even without merit." We further add, "We do not want to be split up in fractions. We do not want to gossip and speak evil about each other. We all want to be friends, united in one common goal, to serve You in the rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem. Amen." Let us unite not just in this beautiful prayer expressed before every new month but to live up to the ideal of the prayer throughout the month. Especially in this month of Elul this will be a worthy preparation for the Days of Judgment. In this merit may we, together with all Jews world-wide, be inscribed to a year of redemption and salvation with the coming of Moshiach. Amen!

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.


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