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Beha'alotcha - Not Responding

At the end of Parashat Beha’alotecha, the Torah tells a story about Miriam, Moshe Rabbenu’s sister, who made some unkind remarks about Moshe to their brother, Aharon.  Moshe, due to his special stature as a prophet, separated from his wife, and Miriam thought this was wrong.  Hashem instantly punished Miriam with tzara’at for speaking lashon ha’ra about Moshe Rabbenu.


In the middle of this story, the Torah interjects by telling us something about Moshe: והאיש משה עניו מאד מכל האדם אשר על פני האדמה – Moshe was the humblest man on the face of the earth.


Why are we told that here, in this context?  How is Moshe Rabbenu’s unparalleled humility relevant to the story of Miriam’s lashon ha’ra?


The commentaries explain that the Torah here is making the point that Moshe was not bothered at all by Miriam’s remarks.  He heard about what she said, and he did not respond.  He could have very easily told her: “Are you serious?!  Do you not know who I am?  Do you not realize that I spent forty days in the heavens without eating, receiving the Torah directly from G-d?!  Are you really in a position to question why I had to do this?”  But he did not respond.  He remained silent.


The Rambam writes that this is one of the things we learn from the story of Miriam.  If she was punished for making comments which were not especially hurtful, and which did not bother Moshe Rabbenu at all, then certainly one must avoid speaking lashon ha’ra that is truly damaging and can cause harm to the person spoken about.


Moshe’s silence after Miriam’s lashon ha’ra provides us with an instructive example of an important teaching in the Gemara:


הנעלבין ואינן עולבים, שומעין חרפתן ואין משיבין, עושין מאהבה ושמחין ביסורין – עליהן הכתוב אומר, "ואוהביו כצאת השמש בגבורתו."


Those who are insulted but do not insult, who hear their shame but do not react, who act with love and rejoice in suffering – about them the verse says, “Those who love Him are like the sun going out in all its force.”


The Gemara here emphasizes the great power – בגבורתו – of a person who can remain silent in the face of an insult.  One of the most effective ways to earn Hashem’s blessings is to master this most difficult skill – to not respond, to keep quiet, to prevent an insensitive or hurtful remark from snowballing into a full-blown fight.


The Gemara similarly teaches us elsewhere:אין העולם מתקיים אלא בשביל מי שבולם את עצמו בשעת מריבה – “The world exists only in the merit of one who restrains himself in a time of argument.” 


The merit of keeping silent, instead of turning an insult into a fight, is so powerful that it could sustain the entire earth.


Why is this quality so powerful?  What makes the merit of remaining silent so unique?


Other mitzvot can be prepared for in advance.  If a person becomes inspired to begin praying three times a day, he can figure out how to arrange his schedule and set reminders for himself to make sure he fulfills his prayer obligations.  This is not easy, of course, but it something that a person can plan ahead of time.  Likewise, if a person makes the courageous decision to start being more careful about Shabbat observance, he can prepare during the week so that he can properly observe Shabbat.  But the quality of שומעין חרפתם ואינן משיבין, remaining silent after hearing an insult, is a spur-of-the-moment decision.  It means that when, out of the blue, somebody says something hurtful, right there at the heat of the moment we choose to keep our mouth closed and not say anything.  This is not something we can prepare for ahead of time.  It requires us to develop our humble character, learning from Moshe Rabbenu, recognizing that what others say about us does not deserve our attention or our anxiety. 


Stories abound of people who were in a situation where they remained silent after being insulted or embarrassed, and then experienced great blessing.  This is not some esoteric Kabbalistic concept; it is something that is stated explicitly in the Gemara, and has been attested to by many people throughout the ages.  This is a quality that we should all try to master.  If we develop this powerful skill, then we will save ourselves, our families and our community so much fighting, aggravation and unpleasantness, and we will bring upon ourselves Hashem’s limitless blessings. - Rabbi Joey Haber

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