The Consequences of Slander

At the beginning of Parshat Shlach, Bamidbar 13, God commands Moshe: "Send for yourself men and have them scout out the land of Cana'an (Israel) which I am giving to B'nai Yisrael; one man; one man each for his father's tribe you shall send them, each leader among them."

Rashi asks why the chapter of the spies immediately follows the chapter of Miriam which appears at the end of Parshat Behaalotcha.

Rashi answers that Miriam was punished for speaking Lashon HaRa (slander) about her brother Moshe, yet the spies did not learn their lesson, rather they spoke Lashon HaRa about the Land of Israel.

If we look at the punishments that they received, we actually find that the punishment for the spies and those who participated in their slander was worse than the punishment that Miriam received.

In Bamidbar, 12:1, we read: "Miriam and Aharon spoke against Moshe concerning the Cushite woman that he married". Miriam's punishment was that she was inflicted with tzaraat, a skin disease similar to leprosy for seven days. While she was ill, Moshe prayed for her recovery and B'nai Yisrael did not travel, they waited for her to recover. Once she recovered she rejoined the Jewish people.

In Bamidbar 13:28, 32, we read the slander that the spies spread concerning the Land of Israel, "The nation is mighty, the cities are greatly fortified, we also saw the offspring of the giant".They spread slander about the land that they had scouted, to B'nai Yisrael saying:."It is a land which consumes its inhabitants.We saw the giants.and we were like grasshoppers in their eyes." The punishment of the spies was that they were killed immediately in a plague. The punishment for B'nai Yisrael for participating in the slander was that they would wander in the desert for forty years and would not have the privilege to enter the Land of Israel. Only Yehoshua and Calev, who risked their lives to defend the Land of Israel were allowed to enter the land and inherit it forty years later.

The punishment that the spies received was much worse than Miriam's punishment! Three reasons why jump out at me:

  1. As Rashi stated earlier, the spies saw that God would not tolerate slander, yet they spoke it anyway.
  2. The spies as well as Miriam were all leaders of the Jewish people, yet Miriam had more merits than the spies had. In Bamidbar 12:15, Rashi points out that because Miriam waited to see what would happen to Moshe when he was floating down the river in a basket, God rewarded her and waited until she was fully healed.
  3. The spies received such a severe punishment because they were spreading slander about the Land of Israel. God immediately put the spies to death to show that slander concerning the Land of Israel will not be tolerated.

Today, we see people all over the world, including leaders, spreading hatred and slander about Israel. We must stand up and protest on behalf of Israel, as Yehoshua and Calev did and show that slander concerning Israel will not be tolerated.