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Parshat Ki Teitze
By: Mrs. Avital Levy
Hannah Wasserman, SFW ’04-‘05
In this week’s parsha, Ki Teitze, we find one of the 6 zechirot that we recite daily: “Zachor at asher asa Hashem Elokekecha l’miryam b’derech betzeitchem mimitzrayim.” As Rabbi Menachem Leibtag explains, Rashi understands this pasuk as a warning against speaking lashon hara, since it is the pasuk following directly after the mention of tzara’at. Yet it is interesting for the Torah to warn us against speaking negatively about our fellow man by highlighting the wrongdoings of Miriam. The Ramban understands this pasuk to be a mitzvat asei, similar to the other zechirot [such as Shabbat - "Zachor et yom hashabbat lkadsho" (Shemot 20:7), Yetziat Mitzrayim - "Zachor et ha-yom ..." (Shemot 13:3), and Amalek - "Zachor et asher asa lecha Amalek..."(see Devarim 25:17)], wherein the emphasis in bringing the example lies in the underlying message exemplified by Miriam’s actions. In other words, the Torah is not focusing on Miriam’s lashon hara, but is reminding us (daily) that even a prophetess of her stature succumbed to the evils of slander. The Ramban explains,
... Hence, this is a warning (of the Torah) not to speak
lashon hara, commanding us to remember the terrible
punishment that Miriam received [even though she was] a
righteous prophetess, and she spoke only about her
brother (not someone outside the family) and only
privately with her brother (Aharon), not in public, so
that Moshe himself would not be embarrassed... But
despite these good intentions, she was punished. How
much more so must we be careful never to speak lashon hara...(see Ramban 24:9).
The Torah mentioned Miriam to show us that even with the best of intentions, we must be careful with lashon hara. Even if you think that your words are harmless, know that if such a righteous person such as Miriam was punished, how much more so must you be careful in your words. Similarly, Nechama Leibowitz points out another mitzvah in this week’s parsha where the Ramban scrutinizes man’s resolutions and words and concludes that even with the purest of intentions, the action can render a person a sinner. In this case, the issue is making vows. We learn in Kohelet that “ka’asher tidor neder l’Elokim al teacher lshalmo ki ain chafetz bkesilim et asher tedor leshaleim.” “When you vow a vow unto G-d, do not delay to fulfill it, for He has no pleasure in fools…” The Ramban interprets this to mean that although one may believe that they are fulfilling G-d’s will by making a vow, they are really fools. If one overestimates his/her ability to fulfill the vow, and never stops to think that maybe they won’t be able to do so even for technical reasons, they are still chayav. Therefore, although one had the purest of intentions, if they fail to keep their word, they deserve punishment.
As Rosh Hashana approaches I think everyone needs to analyze how they utilize speech, that which differentiates humans from animals. It is easy to rationalize our deeds with our preceding good intentions, but if Miriam failed even in that respect, we should concentrate that much harder on our words.
Shabbat Shalom and Ketiva Vechatima Tova.
1: Parshat Shavua