Mo' Better Jews
Volume 6 Issue 39
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
This week the Torah uses two of Judaism's greatest prophets to teach us a
lesson that is applicable to every Jew that walks the face of this
earth. It teaches us about lashon horah - evil talk. It chides, not two
low level subordinates for speaking against their leader, rather it
admonishes none other than Moshe's siblings, Aharon and Miriam. Miriam
expressed concern to Aharon about a certain aspect of her brother’s manner,
yet Hashem felt it was inappropriate. So Hashem reprimands Moshe's
siblings: "Hear now My words. If there shall be prophets among you, in a
vision shall I, Hashem, make Myself known to him; in a dream shall I speak
with him:Not so is My servant Moses; in My entire house he is the trusted
one. Mouth to mouth do I speak to him, in a clear vision and not in
riddles, at the image of Hashem does he gaze. Why did you not fear to speak
against My servant, against Moses?"(Numbers 12:6-8). Obviously Miriam's
concerns were unjustified for a man of Moshe's stature. But in the course
of the rebuke, a phrase seems superfluous. What does the Torah mean by
repeating the expression, "against My servant, against Moses"? Shouldn't it
have said, against Moses, my servant or my servant, Moses. After all there
was only one party involved Moshe.
Rashi elucidates: "against My servant," even if he was not Moses, and
"against Moses" even if he was not "My servant." The Torah seems to make a
clear warning against slandering either Moses the servant or Moses the
man. What is the difference?
My grandfather, Reb Yaakov Kamenetzky told the story of the Chafetz Chaim
and another Rabbi who were traveling together in Poland.
As guests at an inn, they were served a fitting meal. Upon finishing their
supper, the proprietress inquired about the quality of the service and the
"Excellent," replied the Chafetz Chaim. The other rabbi nodded in
agreement and then said as an afterthought, "the soup could use a bit more
The Chafetz Chaim turned white. The moment the hostess left the table he
turned to his travel partner. "What have you done? All my life I have
tried to avoid lashon harah and now I regret this entire trip!"
"But what did I say?" pleaded the other Rabbi. "All I mentioned is that the
soup needed a bit of salt. Otherwise I was as complimentary as you!"
Don't you understand? There is a poor Jewish widow that is the cook. Right
now the owner will complain to the cook who may deny that she did not salt
the soup, then there may be a fight. The widow may lose her job! And if
you don't believe me, come to the kitchen and see what is happening!"
True to his prediction they entered the kitchen and saw the hostess
admonishing the cook. Only the intervention and continued compliments of
the rabbis calmed the ire of the hostess and the cook retained her position.
The Torah teaches us an important lesson in considering about whom we
speak. Some of us worry about speaking about Hashem's servants. But the
Torah clearly chastises those who speak against Moses, even if he were not
"my servant"! Everyone has a capacity in life and deserves the utmost
regard no matter how high or low they are on the social scale.
The Chofetz Chaim, the great sage who “wrote the book” that details the
laws of Lashon Horah, used to say, “If you say that the rabbi cannot sing
and that the cantor cannot learn, that is lashon harah. But if you say
that the chazzan cannot sing and the rabbi cannot learn, that is murder!
Hashem declares, "I do not approve whether you speak about my servant in
the capacity of a Moshe, or a Moshe in the capacity of my servant!"
Whether in the capacity of a rabbi or that of a simple Moshe, every Jew has
feelings. Whether they are considered "servants of Hashem" or are regarded
as just a simple "Moishe," we must be careful of what we say to them, and
about them. For the crime of lashon horah is an equal opportunity
©2000 Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
This week's drasha is dedicated to the memory of Jamie Lehmann z'l. We
still think of him every single day and learn from his wonderful example of
midot tovot and chein. Karen Lehmann Eisner and David Eisner
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Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
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The author is the Associate Dean of theYeshiva of South Shore.
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