The Power of Suggestion
RABBI WAGENSBERG ON PARSHAS BEHA’ALOSECHA
“The Power of Suggestion”
This week we are going to talk about a very difficult story concerning Miriam who allegedly spoke Lashon Hara about her younger brother, Moshe. As a result of her words, she was smitten with tzara’as (a spiritual skin disease), and Moshe had to pray on her behalf.
The verse says that Miriam spoke with Aharon, “Regarding the Kushite woman he [Moshe] had married” (Parshas Beha;alosecha, 12:1). Rashi cites a Midrash Tanchuma (Parshas Tzav, 13) which says that this means that Miriam spoke about the fact that Moshe had divorced his wife, Tzippora, because he [Moshe] was a prophet.
Miriam criticized Moshe for that because both she [Miriam] and Aharon were prophets and they did not have to separate themselves from their spouses (Parshas Beha’alosecha, 12:2).
The Rambam (Hilchos Tumas Tzara’as, 16:10) claims that Miriam’s mistake was that she equated Moshe to other prophets without realizing that Moshe was a superior prophet to others.
The verse goes on to say that Moshe was the humblest person who ever lived (Parshas Beha’alosecha, 12:3). The Shvilei Pinchas says that it was due to this humility of Moshe which kept Miriam and Aharon in the dark regarding Moshe’s superior level of prophecy. Moshe would have never told them that he was a greater prophet than they because he was too humble to do so.
So, Hashem had to set them, Miriam and Aharon, straight. Hashem did so by telling them that other prophets only receive prophecy in a dream, which means that it is not a clear vision (Parshas Beha’alosech, 12:6, Rashi). However, Moshe is the most trusted one in Hashem’s entire house (Parshas Beha’alosecha, 12:7), with whom Hashem speaks mouth to mouth. This means that Moshe receives a clear vision which is not in riddles (Parshas Beha’alosecha, 12:8).
This means that Moshe was in a class of prophecy all unto himself. Besides, it was Hashem Who commanded Moshe to separate himself from his wife (Parshas Vaeschanan, 5:28), due to the frequency and intensity of his prophecy. Since we are being told about the difference between Moshe’s prophecy as opposed to other Neviim’s prophecy, let us enumerate what those differences were.
The Rambam (Yesodei HaTorah, 7:6) lists six differences between the prophetic powers of Moshe as opposed to all other prophets.
Other prophets only received their prophecies in a dream while they were laying down sleeping. However, Moshe would receive prophecy while awake standing erect (Parshas Naso, 7:89).
Other prophets received their prophecy through an angel, whereas Moshe received prophecy directly from Hashem (Parshas Beha’alosecha, 12:8; Parshas Ki Sisa, 33:11).
Other prophets received their prophecy in the form of a riddle or in the shape of a puzzle, and they would have to try and figure out what Hashem was telling them. However, Moshe received a clear prophecy which did not require any interpretation (Parshas Beha’alosecha, 12:8).
Other prophets experienced fright and nervousness when Hashem communicated with them. However, Moshe was completely relaxed when Hashem spoke to him (Parshas Ki Sisa, 33:11).
Other prophets could not decide when to receive prophecy, rather, Hashem decided. However, Moshe was allowed to decide when Hashem would speak to him (Parshas Beha’alosecha, 9:8).
After the prophecy was over, other prophets reverted back to how they were prior to the prophecy, whether with respect to the glow on their faces or with respect to returning to their spouses. However, after Moshe finished receiving a prophecy, the glow on his face remained with him, and, as we mentioned above, he was not allowed to return to his wife (Parshas Ki Sisa, 34:30).
At first, all three [Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam] were selected by Hashem to be the leaders of the Jewish people in the wilderness (Micha, 6:4). Moreover, the three gifts which Hashem granted to the Jewish people in the Midbar were in the merits of Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam. The Manna was in the merit of Moshe, the Clouds of Glory were in the merit of Aharon, and the water which flowed from a rock was in the merit of Miriam (Meseches Ta’anis, chap. 1, “M’eimasai”, pg. 9a, Rebbi Yosi b’Rebbi Yehuda; Medrash Shocher Tov, Mishlei, 14:1).
All three of them were prophets (Parhsiyos v’Zos Haberacha, 34:10; Vaeira, 7:1; Beshalach, 15:20), and all three died by Misas Neshika (God kissed them and they died) which is considered to be the most pleasant way to transition from this world to the next.
Hashem even summoned all three of them to the Ohel Moed (Tent of Meeting; Parshas Beha’alosecha, 12:4) which indicates that all three were special.
However, after they arrived inside the Ohel Moed, Hashem went on to dismiss Aharon and Miriam from the Ohel Moed. Those two had to leave, with only Moshe remaining inside. The Shvilei Pinchas says that this was meant to show Aharon and Miriam that Moshe was superior to them.
Moshe’s place was within the Ohel Moed where Hashem would speak to him from atop the Aron Hakodesh, between the two Keruvim (Parshas Teruma, 25:22).
At this point we are going to see what motivated Miriam to complain about Moshe divorcing Tzippora.
The Gemara in Sota (chap. 1 “Hamekaneh”, pg. 12a, based on Parshas Shemos, 2:1; Rav Yehuda bar Zevina) says that Amram was the Gadol Hador, and when he heard about Pharaoh’s harsh decree to throw Jewish baby boys into the river (Parshas Shemos, 1:22), he said that it would be better not to bring babies into the world to begin with rather than have them suffer suffocation in the river.
So, Amram divorced his wife Yocheved, and all of the Jewish men followed his lead and divorced their wives as well. Miriam told her father that his decree was harsher than Pharaoh’s because Pharaoh’s decree was only on boys, but Amram’s decree was on girls also.
Miriam suggested that Amram take Yocheved back because the savior of the Jewish people would come about from their union. When Moshe was born and the house filled with light, Amram kissed Miriam on her head and said, “My daughter, your prophecy has come true.”
However, when Egyptian police were breaking doors down to throw Jewish baby boys into the river which forced Yocheved to place Moshe in a basket on the river which endangered Moshe’s life, Amram smacked Miriam on her head and said, “My daughter, where is your prophecy now?” Therefore, Miriam followed Moshe from a distance (Parshas Shemos, 2:4) because she wanted to see how her prophecy would be fulfilled.
The Shvilei Pinchas says that it turns out that Moshe was born all because of Miriam who admonished Amram for divorcing Yocheved. And when Miriam heard that Moshe divorced his wife Tzippora, it brought back some painful memories from her childhood about how her father, Amram, had divorced her mother, Yocheved.
Miriam reasoned that just like she persuaded Amram to remarry Yocheved which resulted in the birth of Moshe, so too should she convince Moshe to remarry Tzippora because maybe the next generation’s leader would be born from them.
Miriam’s only mistake was that she did not know that Hashem had instructed Moshe to separate himself from Tzippora (Parshas Vaeschanan, 5:28). She could not have known about this because Moshe was too great an anav (humble person) to have told her that he was in a class all unto himself.
One zechus (merit) that Miriam had which served as a merit for her to bring Moshe into this world was that she [being a midwife] refused to listen to Pharaoh’s decree of murdering Jewish boys as they were being born (Parshas Shemos, 1:15-17). She could have lost her own life for disobedience. Yet, she feared God more than she feared Pharaoh.
Miriam had another zechus. When the Egyptian Princess found the basket with Moshe in it (Parshas Shemos, 2:3-6), Batya, the Egyptian princess, tried to have Egyptian wet-nurses nurse him. However, Moshe refused to nurse from them because his mouth would one day speak with God directly, and as such, it would not nurse from a contaminated source (Sota, 12b). It was Miriam who suggested to Batya that she (Miriam) could bring a Hebrew wet-nurse to nourish the baby. Batya acquiesced, and Miriam brought Yocheved, the baby’s mother, to nurse Moshe.
Had it not been for Miriam, they would have probably force-fed Moshe from Egyptian nurse-maids which would have contaminated his mouth with chalav akum, thus preventing him from speaking with Hashem mouth to mouth. However, it was Miriam’s wisdom and suggestion which allowed Moshe to nurse from chalav Yisrael, enabling him to speak with God face to face.
It was Miriam who caused Moshe to learn the Torah from Hashem’s mouth directly.
Perhaps we could suggest that this is why Moshe’s prayer for Miriam to heal from her tzara’as was, “Keil Nuh, Refuh Nuh Luh” (please God, heal her now; Parshas Beha’alosecha, 12:13). There are specifically five words in this prayer, and it could be that this is because they correlate to the Five Books of the Torah. This teaches us that Moshe meant to say that he was zocheh (merited) to learn the Five Books of the Torah from Hashem’s mouth (so to speak) directly as a result of Miriam. Moshe intended that this zechus of Miriam’s should be adequate reason for her to be healed.
In spite of all that, Miriam was smitten with tzara’as to teach us just how bad Lashon Hara is. At this point, let us analyze why Miriam had to be quarantined for specifically seven days.
Hashem said to Moshe, “Were her father to spit in her face, would she not be humiliated for seven days, let her be quarantined outside the camp for seven days, then she may be brought in” (Parshas Beha’alosecha, 12:14).
The Da’as Zekeinim Miba’alei Hatosafos (ibid) says that we find that Amram did indeed spit in Miriam’s face. After they were forced to put baby Moshe in a basket on the river, which endangered Moshe’s life, the Gemara in Sota quoted above (12b-13a) said that Amram smacked Miriam on her head. However, the Midrash Shocher Tov (Mishlei, 31:17) says that Amram spat in her face.
When the people saw that the Gadol Hador spat in Miriam’s face, they treated her as a Metzora who has to dwell outside the camp for seven days (Parshas Metzora, 14:8). Therefore, the people distanced themselves from her for seven days.
Therefore, Hashem meant to say, “If Miriam was quarantined for seven days after being spat in the face by her father, Amram, Miriam should certainly be quarantined for seven days now because I Hashem am spitting (so to speak) in her face for what she said.”
The Shvilei Pinchas makes the following observation. Amram spat in her face for nothing because in the end Miriam was right because no harm came to Moshe and they [Amram and Yocheved] did give birth to the Jewish savior.
So, just as she was punished by Amram for nothing, so was Miriam punished by Hashem for nothing because, in so far as Miriam was concerned, she did nothing wrong. She did not know that Hashem had instructed Moshe to divorce Tzippora. If not for that, Miriam would have been right.
This is why the verse compares Amram spitting in her face to that of Hashem spitting in her face. It is to teach us that in both instances, Miriam did nothing wrong. The only reason why Hashem “punished” her was because of the verse which says, “Through those closest to Me I will be sanctified” (Parshas Shmini, 10:3).
This means to say that when Hashem treats righteous people harshly, it causes average people to revere God even ore so. The average person would say, “If that is what happened to a tzaddik, who knows what could happen to us. We had better improve on ourselves” (Rashi, Parshas Shmini, quoting Meseches Zevachim, chap. 14, “Paras Chatas”, pg. 115b, Rebbi Yochanan). Miriam’s receiving tzara’as was not necessarily an indication of sin, but rather, she was being used by Hashem to bring others closer to Him.
Although Miriam possessed “holy chutzpa” (see Divrei Hayamim 2, 17:6) and spoke up, even to the Gadol Hador, when she believed that her suggestion was the will of God, Miriam also possessed great humility, because when she was smitten with tzara’as, she did not complain, but rather she accepted it upon herself.
Maybe we could learn from Miriam to have even more holy chutzpa by making suggestions to other people if we believe that it could really help them, and at the same time we could try to be even more humble like Miriam with the realization that our suggestions may not be what is best for others because we do not have all of the information. Therefore, let us not get insulted or take it personally if others do not heed what we suggest.
So, may we all be blessed to drink from the holy waters of Miriam and remember to cultivate the combination of confidence, concern, generosity, and resilience when attempting to help others, and thereby be blessed to be led out of this long seven-fold exile by the Jewish savior speedily in our days.