Rationally Right Reaction by Doni Cohen


At the very end of Parashat BeHa’alotecha, we read about the incident that gives rise to the fifth of the Sheish Zechirot, the six remembrances: Zechirat Miryam. The Zechirah, found in Parashat Ki Teitzei, reads, “Zachor Eit Asher Asah Hashem Elokecha LeMir’yam BaDerech BeTzeitechem MiMitzrayim,” “Remember that which Hashem your God did to Miryam, on the way when you departed from Egypt” (Devarim 24:9). This Pasuk exhorts us to remember Hashem’s affliction of Miryam with Tzara’at as a consequence of her speaking Leshon Hara about her brother Moshe Rabbeinu, as is described in Parashat BeHa’alotecha (BeMidbar 12:10).

We know that Miryam intends only to rebuke Moshe for not living with his wife; she does not mean to insult him. Indeed, according to the Sifrei, she and Aharon discuss this issue openly, in Moshe’s presence. Miryam, after hearing from Tziporah that Moshe had separated from her (see Rashi 12:1 s.v. VaTidabeir), initiates the conversation with Aharon, and they both ask the following (12:2): “HaRak Ach BeMoshe Diber Hashem HaLo Gam Banu Dibeir,” “Was it only to Moshe that Hashem spoke? Did He not speak to us as well?” That is, why does Moshe separate from Tziporah? The Pasuk then mentions that Hashem hears the conversation, hinting that Hashem would immediately intervene.

However, before we address Hashem’s intervention in this incident, we must ask ourselves: Why doesn’t Moshe respond to his siblings’ criticism? He is standing right there! Why doesn’t he tell Miryam and Aharon that Hashem had requested him not to be with his wife for three days prior to his forthcoming Nevu’ah that he was to receive from Hashem?

The answer lies in the next Pasuk. “VeHaIsh Moshe Anav Me’od MiKol HaAdam Asher Al Penei HaAdamah,” “and the man Moshe was very humble, more than any other person on the face of the earth” (12:3). The Ibn Ezra (ad. loc. s.v. Anav Me’od) explains that Moshe is so humble that he thinks it ridiculous to consider himself greater than other prophets. Therefore, Hashem’s intervention is necessary because Moshe is too humble to defend himself against the accusations of Miryam and Aharon.

Still, there remains an obvious question: How can Moshe Rabbeinu, whom we know stands up to one of the most powerful men in the world, Par’oh, not respond in this instance because of his humility? There, Moshe goes directly to Par’oh, in whose house he was raised and given all the comforts of royalty, and demands that Bnei Yisrael be released from the slavery of Egypt, even though it is difficult for him. He does not, in that instance, let his humility hold him back from fulfilling Hashem’s command. Why doesn’t he stand up for himself here? A simple answer may be that Hashem does not actually command Moshe to respond to Miryam and Aharon’s criticism. Moshe, then, is  fulfilling Hashem’s wishes just by remaining silent. However, I would like to suggest that there is a deeper lesson here about Moshe Rabbeinu’s humility and humility in general.

Moshe’s humility is beyond comprehension. His entire life is dedicated to guiding the Jewish people to observe Hashem’s Torah, yet he does not brag once about it. He has every right to respond, but he chooses to remain silent. We can suggest that this Middah (character) of staying silent may run in Moshe’s family; when Aharon’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu, die in Parashat Shemini, Aharon too remains silent (VaYikra 10:3).

But as we see from both situations, Hashem does not command Moshe and Aharon whether or not to respond. They, after becoming Hashem’s messengers to the Jewish people, need to learn on their own how to act and react to a situation no matter how grave. After so much experience, they know that they need to simply remain silent.

The same is true for us. Every person’s life is different, and it is up to him or her to decide how to respond to each and every situation that arises; Hashem is not going to instruct us how to react. Hashem orchestrates events, and we are charged to react to each one sensibly and with strong Emunah. It is our responsibility to examine the situation, and to consider what the appropriate response should be. With Hashem’s help, and with the models of Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon HaKohein to guide us, we will be able to respond with a rational, and hopefully right, reaction to every circumstance.

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