At the end of this week’s Parasha, Miriam and Aharon speak Lashon HaRa about Moshe. Consequently, Hashem defends Moshe’s Kavod and says, “UMadua Lo Yereitem LeDabeir BeAvdi BeMoshe?” “And why did you not fear to speak against my servant Moshe?” (BeMidbar 12:8) Rashi comments that both “BeAvdi” and “BeMoshe” are needed to teach two separate things. “BeAvdi” teaches us that even if he were not the great Moshe Rabbeinu, Miriam and Aharon were wrong to speak badly about their brother, while “BeMoshe” adds that even if he was not Hashem’s servant they should not have spoken Lashon HaRa about him. What does Rashi mean here? Even one Pasuk earlier, Hashem called Moshe “Avdi” and also said that he was “The most faithful servant in My house.” When was Moshe being only Moshe and not also Eved Hashem and when was Moshe being an Eved Hashem and not being Moshe?
The Melo HaOmer explains Rashi’s comment in light of the Gemara in Berachot (34b) which discusses a story about Rabi Yochanan ben Zakkai’s son who was severely ill. Instead of davening to Hashem by himself, Rabi Yochanan, a distinguished Talmid Chacham, asked Rabi Chanina ben Dosa to pray on his child’s behalf, and, in the end, Rabi Chanina’s Teffilot were answered and the child was healed. Knowing that the wise Rabi Yochanan was greater than Rabi Chanina, Rabi Yochanan’s wife asked her husband if Rabi Chanina was legitimately greater than him. Rabi Yochanan answered, “No, he is not, but he is like an Eved standing before the King, while I am a noble member of the court standing before the King.”
According to Rashi, Hashem was saying that Moshe was a “servant” as well as a “noble member of the court,” unflawed in both regards. When Hashem rebuked Miriam and Aharon for disparaging “Avdi,” “My servant,” Hashem was angry that they spoke about someone who wanted nothing for himself despite his prominent stature. How could they slander a servant who wanted only to serve his King? Hashem then criticized them for speaking badly about “Moshe” because censuring someone as great as Moshe was a sin even if Moshe had not been a selfless and noble servant. Thus, the Pasuk stated both “BeAvdi” and “BeMoshe” to teach Miriam and Aharon how terrible their Lashon HaRa actually was.
From Hashem’s harsh rebuke of Miriam and Aharon, two of Bnei Yisrael’s greatest leaders and Moshe’s own kin, one can clearly see the importance of respecting others even if their actions seem questionable at the time.