At the end of this week’s Torah portion of B’haaloscha Miriam spoke lashon hara (slander), on some level, about Moshe to Aharon.
The last chapter of the medrish, Pirkei diRebbe Eliezer (54) discusses this episode. “The 8th (9th) descent is when Hashem descended upon the Tent of Meeting as it says, ‘And Hashem descended in a pillar of cloud and He stood at the entrance of the tent and He called for Aharon and Miriam, and they both came out.’ Hashem said to him, whoever slanders his friend in secret has no way to heal, all the more so his brother who is the son of his father and mother. Hashem was angry at them and removed Himself from on top of the tent as it says, ‘Hashem was infuriated at them.’ He left and immediately Miriam received spiritual leprosy (tzaraas). Hashem said, if Aharon would also be a spiritual leper (metzora), a high priest with a blemish, may not bring an offering onto the alter, rather he will look at his sister and will feel pained as it says, ‘And Aharon turned towards Miriam.’ Aharon then went to Moshe, said to him, ‘ My master Moshe, siblings only are separated by death… our sister, while she is still alive has been separated from us as if she is dead. Moshe appeased him with kind words and prayed for her as it says, ‘And Moshe screamed out to Hashem saying, G-D please heal her please.'” The Be’ur Maspik adds that the gemara in Shabbos 96a points out that though it sounds like from the pasuk “Hashem was infuriated at both of them” which sounds like they both got spiritual leprosy, yet the gemara qualifies that just Hashem’s wrath was upon both of them. The Maharz”u adds more insight into this medrish, clarifying, that when Aharon saw his sister and was pained, in this way he accepted his punishment for his sin with his pain. This was also the means he atoned for his sin, in the fact that he partnered in her pain.
It is implicit from the medrish and gemara that Miriam and Aharon deserved equal punishment, and in fact received equal punishment. But for Aharon Kohen Gadol, Hashem wasn’t willing to actually make Aharon a leper because he had to serve in the Mishkan, and a kohen with a blemish may not serve in the Mishkan. So, alternatively, he saw what happened to Miriam and was greatly pained upon seeing the state she was in.
But how is this equal to the punishment Miriam received? Chaza”l say that leprosy is physically quite painful, and the embarrassment Miriam must have felt must have been tremendous. So how does Aharon’s feeling bad for Miriam compare or equate to the pain Miriam was in?
It must be that when Aharon internalized the state his beloved sister was in and why it had happened, the tzadik that he was, as well as running after peace, caring for every individual in the Jewish Nation, all the more so for his own sister,someone of that sensitivity level has the ability to actually feel the pain a spiritual leper is feeling, as if he himself has that same pain. For that reason the Torah likened that Miriam and Aharon were equally punished.
We see from here the awesome ability and to what extent a person can relate to his fellow. This takes on a whole new meaning to imagining being in his shoes. In fact, it would seem that one can actually be in the other’s shoes!