“Miriam and Aharon spoke against Moshe regarding the Cushite woman he had married.” (Bamidbar/Numbers 12:1)
At the end of this week’s parsha, Behaalotcha, Miriam discovers that Moshe (Moses) has separated from his wife. She discusses her concern with Aharon (Aaron). They equate Moshe’s level of prophecy with their own and cannot understand why Moshe has chosen to abstain from marital relations while they remain with their spouses. In fact, G-d has instructed Moshe to remain ritually pure so that he constantly is prepared to receive G-d’s word.
G-d becomes angry that Miriam has criticized His most exalted prophet and He afflicts Miriam with tzaraat, a leprosy-like skin condition. For seven days, until she recovers, Miriam is exiled from the camp. The people in the camp do not move on until Miriam rejoins them, giving them time to contemplate the importance of shmirat lashon (guarding one’s speech).
“Send out for yourself men who will scout the Land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Children of Israel.” (Bamidbar/Numbers 13:1)
At the beginning of next week’s parsha, Shelach, Moshe sends out scouts to report on the condition of the Land of Israel. They describe the Land as one that “devours its inhabitants”. Wherever they go, they witness funerals, so they assume the Land is dangerous. In fact, G-d has arranged for there to be many deaths and burials during the scouts’ visit so that the inhabitants of the Land will be distracted and not notice the scouts.
Rabbi Mordechai Willig on torahweb.org comments on the juxtaposition of the two Torah portions: “Miriam’s basic mistake was the misinterpretation of the facts. She thought that Moshe had decided on his own to abstain, and she questioned his decision. In reality, however, Moshe was commanded to do so. Miriam’s lashon hara (improper speech) was caused by her incorrect understanding of a situation that she had discovered.”
Rabbi Willig notes that the scouts made a mistake similar to the one Miriam made. Writes Rabbi Willig: “The lesson that the meraglim (scouts) should have learned from Miriam was the need to be certain about the facts before criticizing a person or a land…Once the negative impression of the land took hold in the people’s minds, it was impossible to uproot. Such is the power of negative speech…that it is difficult, if not impossible, to rectify.”
As parents, we must make sure we have all the facts before we criticize our children. We should not rush to judgment and should always give them the benefit of the doubt. If we must criticize, we should do so privately so that we do not embarrass our children, and so that we do not creative a negative impression of them for others.