Rabbi Yeheskel Lebovic Congregation Ahavath Zion Maplewood, New Jersey Parashat Sh'lach
The Problem of Excessive Speech
Rashi in this week’s parsha of Shlach explains why the story of the 12 spies is stated right after the story of Miriam having been leprous for 7 days for having spoken “badly” about Moshe who divorced his wife Tzipora: “Since Miriam was punished on account of 'dealings of speech' which she spoke about her brother Moshe, and these wicked ones (the spies) saw this and did not draw a lesson from it.”
Why is there a need altogether to explain the proximity? Isn’t there a direct time continuum between the two stories? The answer is that, though there is a great difference between the sin of the spies and the “sin” of Miriam, this proximity indicates that there is indeed some similarity between the “sin” of Miriam with the sin of the spies!
This is in terms of the nature of both their sins. For if the spies would have taken to heart that what had happened to Miriam was because of her “dealings of speech,” they would not have spoken the way they did. The problem with Miriam was that she spoke too much here and there to Aharon. She should have approached Moshe silently and asked him for an explanation for the divorce. The spies likewise; they actually gave a true report and did not lie. But they too were involved heavily in dealing with too much speech, describing the might of the inhabitants in so many details etc. They should rather have approached Moshe directly and reported on their mission without all this abundant speech process that got the whole Jewish nation into so much trouble.
Today also we are inundated by flows of excessive speeches and statements of opinions. We are surrounded daily by flows of words, either spoken on radio or TV, or written online. The nature of the spoken and written word is such that, while it conveys concepts, information, news, and opinions, we are often overwhelmed by this incessant flow of words which often generates negative effects. Let us learn a great lesson from both Miriam and the spies and steer away from excessive, unnecessary speech!