SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM
Preface: Positive Commandments
Among the 613 mitzvos is the command,“Remember what Hashem, your G-d, did to Miriam on the way when you left Egypt.” Miriam was stricken with tzara’as after she criticized her brother, Moshe Rabbeinu, in a private conversation with her brother Aharon HaKohen. She criticized Moshe because she misjudged him; she did not realize that because Moshe’s level of prophecy was greater than that of any prophet who ever lived, he needed to live a different kind of life. By misjudging him, she was guilty of speaking lashon hara.
When discussing the mitzvah to remember this incident, Ramban writes:
The Torah commands that we remember the great punishment that Hashem brought upon the righteous prophetess [Miriam], who spoke only against her brother, with whom she did kindness and whom she loved like her own self; and she did not speak in his presence, which would have embarrassed him, nor she did she speak about him in public. She spoke only between herself and her holy brother [Aharon] in private, yet all her good deeds did not help her [to escape punishment for speaking lashon hara]. So too, you will not escape punishment if you speak to your brother against your fellow Jew.
The mitzvah of “Love your fellow as yourself,” is “the great rule of the Torah,” as the Tanna R’ Akiva said. Sefer HaChinuch calls this “the mitzvah of ahavas Yisrael.”
In the Chofetz Chaim’s words:
We are commanded to be concerned for someone else’s money as we would be for our own; to be concerned for his honor and to speak his praises the same way that we are concerned for our own honor.
When someone speaks lashon hara or rechilus about his fellow Jew, or accepts lashon hara or rechilus — even if the information is true — he shows clearly that he does not love him at all. Surely, he has not fulfilled the requirement of this verse [meaning, to love the person like one’s own self].
The Chofetz Chaim makes a powerful point. No one is perfect; we all have faults. Yet no one wants others to know about his faults in the slightest way. If someone were to discover one of my faults and tell someone else about it, I would be thinking, “Oh, how I hope that he won’t believe what was said about me!”
Yet, this fault that I want so badly to keep a secret is only a fraction of all the faults I possess. It is only because I care about myself so much that I don’t want anyone to think of me in a bad light.
This is the way we have to think when it comes to another person’s honor. We must protect his dignity and make no mention of his faults.
IN A NUTSHELL
We must learn a lesson from Miriam’s mistake.
When we speak lashon hara, we transgress the mitzvah of ahavas Yisrael.
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