Thursday, April 15, 2010

Miriam Did Not Have E-Mail: Tazriah-Metzorah

Miriam Did Not Have E-Mail

   ה' הַצִּילָה נַפְשִׁי מִשְּׂפַת-שֶׁקֶר מִלָּשׁוֹן רְמִיָּה.  מַה-יִּתֵּן לְךָ וּמַה-יֹּסִיף לָךְ לָשׁוֹן רְמִיָּה. חִצֵּי גִבּוֹר שְׁנוּנִים    עִם גַּחֲלֵי רְתָמִים 

O Lord, save me from treacherous lips, from deceitful tongue!  What can you profit, what can you gain, O deceitful tongue?  A warrior's sharp arrow, with hot coals of broom-wood.
Psalm 120:2 - 4

Miriam did not have e-mail...or facebook, or twitter, or internet, or a cell phone for that matter.  She had her voice and her judgement and a broad desert to traverse.  She had family and community.  She lived in a world before electronic communication, where information spread by word of mouth, being passed from one person to the next.  It was a slow process but even in the pre-snail mail world, where it took a long time for information to be passed from person to person, it was passed nonetheless. 

Miriam loved her brother and when he was much younger, she helped save him.  But siblings have disagreements and fights.  Feelings are hurt and things are said that will be regretted later.  Miriam is frustrated with her brother, or disappointed, or confused by his choices, and speaks ill of him to Aaron.   And word gets back to God...As a result, Miriam has to spend time outside the camp, outside the community.  This is her consequence.  

As I wrote earlier this year, the Rabbis make a direct connection between the skin disease of Metzorah and being Motzi Shem Ra - speaking ill of another person.  Miriam speaks ill of her brother to another person. She develops this skin disease, this impurity, that requires that she dwell outside the community.  Actions have consequences.  Hurting others has consequences.

. חצי גבור שנונים עם גחלי רתמים כל כלי זיין מכין במקומן וזה מכה מרחוץ

"A warrior's sharp arrows with hot coals of broom-wood..." (Ps. 120:4). Why does the text liken the evil tongue to an arrow rather than to any other weapon? Because all other weapons strike at close quarters, while the arrow strikes from afar. Likewise the evil tongue--something said in Rome can kill in Syria.  
Talmud Yerushalmi Peah 1:1

Imagine, in Miriam's world, how long it must have taken for word to spread, either of what she had said or the resulting Metzorah.  In the ancient world, among so many people spread out in the desert, it must have taken quite a while for her words or their consequences to gain momentum, to pass from wanderer to wanderer, from tent to tent.

We don't have that luxury.  Just as we are taught in the Talmud Yerushalmi about Rome and Syria, today something said in Galena can do damage in Los Angeles in a little over a nanosecond as it is recorded on someone's cell phone and immediately sent via text message to hundreds of people.  Lashon Harah is viral.  Once you type the angry words about another person into your Facebook status and hit "post," there is no taking it back.  If you have 1,000 friends, it appears in their news feed, and then the people they are friends with, but that don't know the subject, see it as well.  It spreads and causes hurt.  

When a ridiculous YouTube video about cats or dogs is viewed by over 25,000,000 people, it means that there is laughter all over the world.  But when one child posts a video that embarrasses a peer on YouTube and it spreads all over the world, then hurt comes to the subject from anonymous people from the four corners of the world for "the evil tongue is likened to an arrow...Because all other weapons strike at close quarters, while the arrow strikes from afar.

Camp is around the corner.  A summer of fun, friends, meaning, and learning is almost here.  As we get closer, children post their excitement about camp.  They count down the days.  And then bunk assignments will arrive and then word about who has which counselor will follow. Now is a good time to remind our campers that facebook, e-mail, etc can be a great way to express their anticipation of the summer.  And it can be a weapon, a long distance tool for bullying, if someone they don't like is in the cabin or if they heard some rumor about a person. 

When I was a camper, you took pictures in the summer and after camp, you had the film developed and you got 3 x 5 prints.  And if you were lucky, you got duplicate copies of each picture and could share one with a friend.  It took time and patience, and your parents usually had to pick them up for you so they would see the pictures.  Today - their is no waiting.  Take a picture on your cell phone or your digital camera, upload it, and broadcast it to your friends, and then they make comments.  The absence of cell coverage does delay the sending of digital pictures until after the summer but it does not limit the distance to which embarrassment can be spread.  Now is a great time to remind our children about the power of images (For a powerful and difficult TED talk about images, watch Jonathan Klein at, and the judgement required in posting images to social networking sites after the summer.

In a world of anonymous blogging, vicious facebook posts, and nasty tweets, our campers and children need us more than ever to teach them the power of words, of images, of posting, and of commenting. Now, more than ever, our children and campers need us to teach them about both the Miriam who dances with her timbrels at The Sea, leading positively and joyously AND the Miram who speaks ill of her brother, who uses the evil tongue, and has to spend time outside the community, outside the camp,  as a result of her lapse in judgement.  Now is the time for all of us to introduce our children to the principle of our Sages, "Life and Death rest in the hand of the Tongue..."  Thank you in advance for partnering with us in making sure that social networking and electronic communication are not sources of pain, bullying and tormenting but are sources of anticipation and excitement.

Shabbat Shalom.

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