Parashat Ki Tztei: Guarding Your Tongue

[Tal Chermon]
One of the Mitzvot of this week’s Torah Parashah is not too well known: “Remember that which Hashem your G-d did to Miriam on the way as you came out of Egypt” (Devarim 24:9). Rashi explains that this constitutes a command to remember how Miriam spoke “Lashon Hara” - derogatively - about Moshe Rabbenu and how she was punished. However, it is difficult to comprehend exactly what her sin was, and why she was punished. All she did was discuss the fact with her brother Aharon that her brother Moshe had separated from his wife. She did not approve of this behavior, since no other prophets saw fit to separate from their wives.
There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with what she said since:
1. She spoke the truth.
2. It was a private conversation with her brother.
3. She spoke to a relative and not to a stranger.
4. Her intentions were only for the good.
5. Moshe was not even insulted, as the Torah tells us that no one was as humble as he was.
6. She did not intend to insult him, merely to compare him to other prophets.
7. The person she spoke about was her beloved brother, whose life she had saved when he was a baby.
8. She was a righteous person, but received a very serious punishment for a seemingly small transgression.
In truth, these points do not raise questions, but rather provide the answers, as the Rambam (Mitzvat Tumat Tzaraat 16:9), and the Ramban (Sefer Ha-Mitzvot, Mitzvah 7, and commentary on the Torah, Parshat Metzora) explain:
1. “Lashon Hara” is forbidden, even if it is true.
2. It is forbidden even in a confidential conversation.
3. It is even forbidden to speak derogatively about relatives.
4. It is even forbidden when one has the best intentions.
5. It is even forbidden when the person spoken about is not insulted.
6. It is even forbidden when nothing really bad is said.
7. Loving someone deeply does not grant permission to speak badly of him.
8. It is not a “small” transgression, but rather a very serious one.

How is the Mitzvah of remembering what Miriam did to be fulfilled? Our Rabbis rule that it must be performed verbally (Sifrei on Parshat Bechukotai). When must we fulfill this Mitzvah? Some Rabbis rule that this verse should be read out loud after the daily morning prayers (Sefer Charedim, ch. 4), while others rule that once a year is sufficient, during the Shabbat Torah Reading (Magen Avraham, 60). The Arizal wrote that when we recite the words “to thank You” in the blessing preceding the Shema every morning, we should remember that our mouths were intended not only to praise and thank G-d, but also to refrain from speaking “Lashon Hara.” This too is a way of remembering the lesson we are taught through Miriam.