In the middle of Parashat Beha’alotcha we find the well known verse that we all recite when the Torah is taken out and read in the synagogue: “When the Ark would journey, Moshe said, ‘Arise, Hashem, let Your foes be scattered and let those who hate You flee from before You’” (Bamidbar 10:35) This verse expresses the idea of the power of Torah and Limud Torah (Torah learning). When Klal Yisrael would travel, and when they would go out to war, they would travel with the Aron Habrit containing the Torah. This shows us that the Torah’s teachings must be integrated into every step of Jewish life. The ultimate mission of every Jew is to bring Torah into every facet of his/ her life.
However, the Passuk quoted above evokes another question: In which wars were B’nei Yisrael successful in battle? The Chofetz Chaim in his book Shmirat Halashon teaches us that there is a connection between our victory and the adverse power of lashon harah. In the book Malachi the Prophet warns: “You have made Hashem weary with your words” (Malachi 2:17). The Chofetz Chaim based on the Gemarah Yerushalmi Pe’ah 1:1 relates that the generation of the wicked King Achav was plagued by idol worship. Yet they were victorious in war in the merit of no one speaking lashon harah and informing on one another. This is evident from the fact that no one told Achav that Ovadiah, aided by others, was sustaining 100 prophets of Hashem against the wishes of the King. Yet even in times of great kings when we followed the Torah, we failed in battle, because of the slander amongst the nation. In the time of King Shaul informers such as Doeg and Ziphites were found among the people, and our armies fell in battle (see Shmuel 1 ch. 22). The fact that there were children in Shaul’s generation who were knowledgeable in forty-nine facets of Torah was not enough to gain them victory. From this we can learn that the Torah itself will not protect us if we ourselves are split by strife and arguments.
At the end of our Parasha we read of an event relating to Miriam, Moshe’s older sister. Though she had proper intentions, Miriam spoke lashon harah (derogatory speech) about her Moshe with her brother Aaron (Bamidbar 12:1). We see that Miriam, even though she was a great prophetess and spoke out to help Moshe, is nevertheless punished with tzara’at, a bodily disease caused by speaking lashon harah. We learn the connection between tzara’at and lashon harah from the book of Devarim 24:8. The verse warning againt the affliction of tzara’at is followed by the next verse “remember what Hashem, your G-d, did to Miriam on the way when you were leaving Egypt”.
The adverse effects of lashon harah on the power of Torah are repeated again in the period of counting the Omer, the 7 weeks between Pesach and Shavuot. We know that during this period, 24’000 students of Rabbi Akiva, the great Torah scholar, died in a plague, because they did not respect each other and could not even learn together. The reward of their Torah learning did not save them from the powerful sin of lashon harah.
As I was preparing to write this dvar Torah, I heard the horrific news of the bombing of the bus in Yerushalayim. We ask ourselves again and again why this is happening? What can we do? This Parsha includes two most important lessons for all of us. The school year is coming to an end, and we will be going off to camps and summer vacations. We must remember to keep the flame of our Torah learning integrated in every thing we do. But that alone is not enough. Each and every one of us must do our part and make every effort to guard ourselves from argument, strife and the speaking of lashon harah against one another. Have a great summer!