At the end of this week’s Parashah, we find ourselves looking at a somewhat disturbing situation. Miriam is afflicted with Tzara’at as a punishment for speaking about Moshe inappropriately. This incident does not pose any difficulties, since we all know that if one sins, he is punished. Just because Miriam was the sister of Moshe Rabbeinu doesn’t mean she was exempt from punishment. In fact, it may be the opposite. If you are a greater person, you are held to higher standards than everybody else. Even though Miriam went out of her way to not talk to make sure Moshe wasn’t offended, and in the end he wasn’t, she was still punished for her sin because of the extreme level that Hashem held her to.
While Bnei Yisrael were in the desert, the entire nation waited seven days, the amount of time one needs to become Tahor after this Aveirah, for Miriam to move on. We are commanded to remember how Hashem punished Miriam; it is one of the Sheish Zechirot, six events we are obligated to remember. The Pasuk writes, “Zachor Eit Asher Asah Hashem Elokecha LeMiriam, BaDerech BeTzeitechem MiMitzrayim” “Remember what Hashem, your God, did to Miriam, on the way when you departed from Egypt” (Devarim 24:9). We remember Miriam’s Lashon HaRa via the Zichron, however, isn’t remembering and reciting this a violation of Lashon HaRa itself? The laws of Lashon HaRa do not just apply to the living, but to the dead as well.
To solve this puzzling conundrum we must cite a Mashal. A man once came to a Rebbe for advice. The moment the Rebbe saw this man, he was sure he had gone off the Derech. The Rebbe asked him about his current observance of Torah and Mitzvot, and his suspicions were confirmed. The Rebbe then astoundingly said that he was jealous of the man. The Rebbe went on to say that if a person does Teshuvah for his sins because of his love for G-d, then all his Aveirot can be transformed into Mitzvot. He also told the fellow that this was a tremendous opportunity for him to capitalize on. In response, the fellow said that if that is what happens, when he comes back next year the Rebbe would be even more jealous of him. The Rebbe, surprised by these ridiculous remarks, looked at the man very seriously and said that if he took this gift of Teshuvah and polluted it, it would surely fail. The obvious question is: How is it that your Mitzvot can be turned into Aveirot?
We can explain how this process takes place through another story. A king once scratched one of his most precious gems and became incredibly upset. The king therefore offered an amazing prize for whoever could fix the scratched gem. Every person that came to the king to look at the gem said that it could not be fixed. Day after day, no one would agree to try to fix the gem. One day, the king finally got his wish. An expert craftsman agreed to take a try at fixing the gem. After the craftsman saw the terrible scratch that the gem had and that it could not possibly be repaired, he etched in the gem a picture of a flower around the scratch, making the once terrible scratch into a beautiful flower.
This story is parallel to the story of Miriam. It seems that HaKadosh Baruch Hu gave Miriam an eternal shame when He associated her name with this mistake forever. However, Hashem was really giving Miriam a gift, an opportunity, a chance to turn things around. The next time that something bad happens to us, we should consider what is happening to us, and find out how to make that terrible scratch into a beautiful flower.