In our last two editions of S.A.L.T., we saw various explanations for the comment of the Sifrei, cited by Rashi (Bamidbar 12:13), regarding Moshe’s brief prayer for his sister, Miriam, after she was stricken with tzara’at. The Sifrei asserts that Moshe specifically chose not to recite a lengthy prayer for his sister because he feared this would invite criticism, as the people would mockingly say, “His sister is in trouble, and he stands and indulges in prayer?!” As we saw, several commentators struggled to explain why a lengthy prayer would be misinterpreted as apathy for Miriam.
Irrespective of this question, it is worth noting the broader context of Rashi’s remark, to gain a clearer understanding of Moshe’s concern. Miriam was stricken with tzara’at as a punishment for the inappropriate comments she made about Moshe. This was made very clear to all, as God spoke to Aharon and Miriam to reprimand them for their critical remarks about Moshe, and immediately after the prophecy Miriam was “leprous like snow” (12:10). It is perhaps for this reason, because Miriam’s condition directly and undeniably resulted from her offensive remarks about Moshe, that Moshe was exceedingly careful about appearing indifferent to her plight. He felt it was especially critical to make it clear that although she fell ill due to her improper speech about him, he nevertheless harbored no negative feelings towards her, and was wholeheartedly and unreservedly committed to assisting her in her moment of crisis. Moshe, as depicted by the Sifrei, wanted to ensure that nobody would mistakenly accuse him of even a tinge of revenge or hostility in response to Miriam’s wrongdoing. He sought to teach us that we must show compassion and sensitivity to people facing hardship despite our legitimate grievances against them, that we must react to minor offenses with tolerance and forgiveness, and be prepared to lend assistance that is needed even to those who have acted insensitively towards us.