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Torah Attitude: Parashas Ki Seitzei: Remember Miriam and repent
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 try to 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 Parasha 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 counts this as one of the 248 positive commandments. The Torah instructs us to verbally remember the great punishment that G'd brought upon this righteous prophetess, despite that she had merely spoken about her own 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 and she only spoke in private to their brother Aaron. The Chofetz Chaim points out that in the merit of this great woman the entire Jewish nation was provided with water for forty years in the wilderness. This started soon after the exodus from Egypt and continued even after her sin till she passed away in the last year of the sojourn. 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 we will not go without punishment. In fact, many people fulfill this commandment to remember what happened to Miriam and recite it daily as printed in many prayer books (see Artscroll p.177).
Primary cause for exile
About a month ago we observed Tisha B'Av commemorating the destruction of the Temples and the exile that we still suffer from 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 is the main cause that prolongs our exile and prevents the final redemption. He further explains that the seriousness of this transgression is first of all due to the fact that it causes rifts and quarrels among individuals and whole communities. However, the damage is much greater than that. The Chofetz Chaim quotes the Zohar that explains (Shemos 264b) how gossiping here on earth enables the prosecutor in the heavenly court to accuse individuals and whole communities regarding their evil deeds and wrongdoings. This in turns brings about G'd's wrath and causes Heavenly punishment.
Elul repent and prepare
Last week we entered the month of Elul, the month when we try to repent and prepare ourselves for the Day of Judgment. Every year we experience different kinds of Divine judgment in the form of natural catastrophes. A few years ago the tidal waves of the Tsunami killed hundreds of thousands of people in the Far East. At other times, we experienced unusual floods at various locations, and in the recent past major earthquakes have brought havoc upon thousands of people.
Beyond our ability
It is beyond our ability to interpret why G'd brings these calamities upon the world. In addition, there is a serious problem when people suggest why G'd did this or that 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 had 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.
Always a message
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 pray: "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." We can gain a better understanding of this prayer by quoting what Gideon, the judge, said to an angel that was sent to him as a Divine messenger. Gideon was concerned about the suffering of the Jews and 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." This is what we express in the above prayer: "G'd You performed miracles for our forefathers and redeemed them from slavery. We beg You: redeem us 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 internalize this beautiful prayer and make a real effort to live up to its ideals. This will be a meaningful and worthy preparation for the Days of Judgment ahead of us 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.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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