This Dvar Torah is dedicated in memory of Eliezer Yehoshua ben Yaakov Lieberman a”h. May his memory be a chizuk and comfort to his family, and may they see no more sorrow.
At the end of this week’s Torah portion of Bihaaloscha, Miriam speaks lashon hara, slandered Moshe on some level, to Aharon, and Miriam was punished with tzaraas, spiritual leprosy. During this entire ordeal not only was Moshe silent, but he even prayed for Miriam to be healed.
There are many lessons the Ralbag learns from this occurrence. One is that it is beneficial for a person to act with the character trait of humility and lowliness as much as possible. For we see that Moshe, with all his perfection, and being the king and prophet, still in all the Torah testifies that he was the humblest of all people.
Another lesson the Ralbag learns from here is that a person shouldn’t take to heart things which are said against him, even if you might be the master over the person who spoke out against you. Moshe was totally unperturbed by the fact that Miriam and Aharon spoke out against him, and he was quiet. For this reason, the Torah writes at this juncture, “And the man, Moshe, was very humble.” It is further understood that Moshe knew what was said about him, for Aharon said to him, “Do not cast a sin upon us for we have been foolish and we have sinned” (Bamidbar 12:11).
The Ralbag learns another lesson, that a perfect person wouldn’t take revenge or bear a grudge from one who insulted him. Not only this, but he should even help the one who spoke out against him. For we see that Moshe Rabbeinu of blessed memory not only was not unnerved at the words Miriam, his sister, threw out against him, but he helped her as much as he could through prayer. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Ralbag learns from the fact that Moshe Rabbeinu was unphased by the lashon hara Miriam spoke against him, that any person should be unphased by insults or words said against him or her. It would seem that even though someone said some harsh words against the other, which was most likely uncalled for, and a sin to be spoken, the one spoken about has the ability to, and should try to, stay quiet, and be totally unaffected about what was said about him or her. Yet only one who has perfected his or her qualities can not only be unphased and stay quiet but can proactively help the one who insulted them, in their time of need. We see how severe of an impact an insult has on a person, that even if unphased and quiet about the situation, a normal person still cannot come to help the one who insulted him or her, even in their time of need.
But what if a person can’t forgive and move on; what if inside of them they still feel insulted; does that mean they should suppress their feelings?
The answer is no, suppressing one’s feelings is very unhealthy and is prohibited under the prohibition of “Don’t hate your brother in your heart, you shall surely rebuke him, and not carry upon him a sin” (Vayikra 19:17). The Ralbag in his commentary on this pasuk says that if a person does something against you (or Hashem), you should rebuke him, in order to direct him back onto the right back path. The point of the rebuke is that if he did anything against you, maybe he will fix the wrong he did or be afraid to do anything bad to you again. One just has to make sure that the rebuke is done in a way that it serves its purpose, (this is the hard part). Giving rebuke in a private fashion with words that will stir him to change his ways, not harshly and in front of others. As the Torah concludes, rebuking should not be done in a way that it will be a sin on the rebuker for embarrassing your fellow. (Click here for Hebrew text.) The Ohr Hachaim shares a beautiful lesson on this pasuk along the same vein. He says “You shall not hate your brother etc.” This means that if your fellow Jew does something to you that will cause you to hate him, don’t hate him in your heart, rather you should speak to him about what he did… and what it means, “you shall not carry upon him a sin,” that is, you should not conclude in your mind that what occurred from your brother was done wickedly, and he unlamentally stands by his sin, without any remorse. Rather, you should judge him favorably and rebuke him, and through the rebuke one of two things will happen. Either he will give a valid excuse for what he did and did not really sin, or he will regret what he did and repent, never wanting to do it again, and then he will be like a friend or brother to you. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
We see from here that if a person can’t honestly let go of what someone else did to them then the right thing to do is to go over to them and speak it out. In this way, if done correctly you can fix the situation or see that the situation isn’t as dire as it looked at first glance, but one certainly shouldn’t suppress his or her feelings which will just build hatred in one’s heart.
Lastly, one might think you can never say no, and are always required to help others. That is what kindness is all about! However, the Ralbag on the next pasuk (Vayikra 19:18) says “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This means you shall love him like your own body. For this reason, one should choose for him whatever good is possible to give him, and keep distance damages from your friend, just as you would for yourself. Indeed, this mitzvah is fashioned in such a way that it should not damage (or hurt) the lover, for because of this love one isn’t required to take off from his own job in order to get his friends job done for him, because love for yourself comes before love of your friend…
Every person in the world is different, some are naturally “forgive and forget” individuals, some work hard, learning mussar, and perfecting their character traits so that an insult will genuinely not make a tangible impact on him or her, yet others do feel the pain and are expected to not hold it in and suppress it but rather do something about it to constructively resolve the issues. Whichever category one falls into we see that Hashem understands we are frail human beings, who for the most part are not perfect, but can still do a lot of good and should have the patience and humility to deal with these rough situations.
Hashem expects each and every one of us to know ourselves, know what our strengths and weaknesses are, what we can and cannot do, but act accordingly to not hurt ourselves as well as not to ensue conflict with others.
Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder