(c) 2000 Dr Hendel; 1st appeared in Bais Medrash (c) Torah.Org

Date: Mon, 23 Jun 1997 20:20:10 -0400
From: rhendel@mcs.drexel.edu (Russell Hendel)
Subject: RE: Why was Miriam Punished with Leprosy?

Alana Suskin raises the excellent question on Numbers 12
   >  >   the striking of Miriam with leprosy..to be .. difficult passage
   >  >   it makes no sense that she should be punished...
   >  >   MOses was a man ..like any other..she was his ..elder sister..a prophet
   >  >   ..the point is never to question our leaders? I don't think so....

This question is raised in the Shmirath Halashon by the Chafetz Chayiim and
is given two answers throughout the book: Let me first give the Chafetz
Chayiims formulation of the question and then his two answers:

QUESTION: Our sages say "If Miriam---who risked her life to save her brother
when she was younger (Ex 2:4) and tried to help her brothers marriage by
talking about his separation from his wife (See Rashi on Number 12:1,2,3)---
was so severely punished for Lashon Harah how much more so those who are

But, says the Chafetz Chayiim, what then was her sin? You are allowed to
speak about people in order to help them which is what she was doing!!

ANSWER 1: She spoke her suspicions about her brother in a DEFINITE vs a
PERHAPS tone (i.e. Num 12:2 .."Is it only to Moses that G-d spoke..has He
not spoken to us also.." should have been said in a more passive tone)

ANSWER 2: RULE: If a particular act (e.g. Moses separating from his wife
because of Prophecy) has a clear personality interpretation (Moses was
egotistical)...BUT that personality interpretation is CONTRADICTED by what
we know about the person (Miriam knew that Moses was humble)...in such a
circumstance it is Lashon Harah to state the conclusion about the person
(Moses was egotistical) EVEN THOUGH it would NOT be Leshon Hara on an
ordinary person if spoken for a good purpose.

Russell Jay Hendel;Ph.d. A.S.A; RHendel @ MCS . Drexel . Edu