Miriam and the Moaning Meraglim- The Importance of Learning from the Past

Our sedra, arguably one of the most tragic ones in the entire Torah- the unfolding events delay Am Yisrael’s entrance to Eretz Yisrael for forty years, lead to the deaths of thousands of Jews, and set into place the destruction of two Temples on that same sad night- is preceded by the story of Miriam and Aharon’s Lashon Hara about Moshe and his “kushit” wife. We can already ask a simply, yet powerful question: why does this parsha precede the story of the mergalim?

When Hashem hears their less-than-positive conversation, He calls them to the Ohel Moed and punishes Miriam, who was a nevi’ah and a very holy person, with a very harsh punishment of tzara’at and a very public excommunication for seven days. However, the pesukim don’t elaborate on what exactly she said. Based on a rudimentary read of the commentators, some even go as far as explaining that Miriam’s words weren’t exactly Lashon Hara. So, why was Miriam punished so gratingly for this seemingly borderline transgression?

I believe that both questions can be answered with a simple, yet slightly harsh, explanation: the story of Miriam and Aharon is used to set a very public example of a sin which is all-too-easy to accede to. By punishing Miriam in a very harsh manner, Hashem showed to Am Yisrael exactly how serious of a transgression Lashon Hara is, and how far one must distance themselves to avoid this egregious sin. The location of the relating of the story, immediately before Chet HaMeraglim which was quite possibly one of the most inculpatory instances of Lashon Hara in history, serves to bring home an important message to us, reading the story thousands of years later- that Am Yisrael had been warned about the severity of this sin, and were therefore punished appropriately when they failed to remember this when confronted with the evil tale of the spies. Perhaps this can also explain the magnitude of the nation’s punishment afterwards. Our takeaway from chet hamergalim in its context in Sefer Bemidbar, is of the importance of learning from history, and not repeating mistakes we’ve been warned against.

Several times in the past, we’ve explored the importance of learning from the past, and not allowing history to repeat itself. Unfortunately, current events, such as the near-election of socialist anti-semite Jeremy Corbyn, the rise in anti-semitism and Islamic terrorism around the world, and the growing backing and publicity of anti-Zionist factions of Diaspora Jewry, call into question how much the world, and especially our brethren, actually remember history. We cannot allow ourselves to again be subjugated, abused and attacked. We cannot remain in a world which, whether actively or passively, supports our destruction. We cannot allow our people abroad to continue to die a slow spiritual death. These have happened before, and we suffered tremendously the previous time. However, the stakes are higher this time- we made mistakes in the past, paid the price, and were warned not to make the same errors again. Let us learn from two thousand years of history, and the last one hundred years of our suffering, and make the decision to return home, to the land that the Spies’ despised, and thousands of years of Jews were barred from as a result. Let us all do our best to return home to Eretz Yisrael, undo the Sin of the Spies, and look forward to redemption. May we all merit a ge’ulah shlaima very very soon.

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