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Don't paint the Entire Canvas with the Same Brush

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

At the conclusion of Parshat Beha’alotcha the Torah records how Miriam speaks to her brother Aron of what she perceives is a mistaken action on behalf of Moses. Miriam contracts T’zara’at (a physical skin condition that resulted from speaking disparagingly about others) and is forced to leave the camp for a number of days to purify herself. According to some of our early commentators, remembering this incident daily is a positive commandment.

The simple reason for this daily obligation is that we should embed in our consciousness the seriousness of the prohibition of speaking disparagingly about others. Rabbi Chaim Shmulewitz of blessed memory, the Rosh Yeshiva of the great Mir Yeshiva, suggests that this incident contains another message well worth remembering on a daily basis.

Miriam was a well-known spiritual leader and role model to the Jewish people. She was now publicly shamed by contracting Tzara’at and being forced to leave the camp. Nonetheless our sages teach us that God instructed the entire nation to delay their journey until Miriam was purified and returned to camp. This was a tremendous honor to Miriam, effectively letting the people know that Miriam should be honored despite her failing.

We find a similar teaching in tractate Yevamot which states that when we find God meting out justice, we also find God recognizing the good that a person has performed. This teaches us an important life lesson. Very often when we see the failings of a particular person we tend to focus only on those failings. In our minds we have relegated the person to the status of an entirely bad/negative person. We easily forget the good deeds the person has performed and his/her contribution to society.

We learn from God that this is not the correct approach. God certainly judges our moral failures and nothing is white washed. Nonetheless, our positive actions are simultaneously remembered by God. We are instructed to follow God’s example and remember the good in others (and ourselves) despite their (or our) human moral failings.