If you were to write a historical account about one of your heroes, it would be understandable if you would glorify their positive acts and whitewash their errors or misjudgments.

The Torah, on the other hand, does not mince words in taking to task even the greatest heroes of our nation. When a mistake is made, even if the intentions were proper, and even if it was committed by a righteous individual, it is called out so that we can all learn from it.


Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses regarding the Cushite woman he had married . . . They said, “Has the L‑rd spoken only to Moses? Hasn’t He spoken to us too?”

G‑d called to Aaron and Miriam: “. . . If there be prophets among you, I, G‑d, will make Myself known to him in a vision; I will speak to him in a dream. Not so is My servant Moses . . . With him I speak mouth to mouth, in a vision and not in riddles, and he beholds the image of G‑d. So why were you not afraid to speak against My servant Moses?”

The wrath of the L‑rd flared against them, and He left . . . and behold, Miriam was afflicted with tzara’at (a skin disease), [as white] as snow. (Numbers 12:1–10)

Moses differed from all other prophets in that he had to be ready to hear G‑d’s communication at any moment. He therefore had to be ritually pure at all times, meaning he had to refrain from marital relations with his wife, Tzipporah.

Miriam learned from a chance remark by Tzipporah that Moses had separated from his wife. Not realizing that G‑d had instructed Moses to do so, and feeling it was unjustifiable, Miriam criticized Moses to his older brother, Aaron, in the hope of rectifying the situation. Both Aaron and Miriam were prophets, but were not required to withdraw from normal family life. In their understanding, neither was Moses so required.

G‑d punished Miriam for instigating this criticism. But what made Miriam misjudge her brother?

The driving force in Miriam’s life was championing family harmony. Ever since she was a little child in Egypt under the cruel laws of the Egyptian taskmasters, she sought to increase familial unity.

When the new Pharaoh ascended the throne and decreed that all Hebrew newborn baby boys must be put to death, the young Miriam served at her mother’s side in her role as midwife, helping the Jewish women give birth. The two valiantly risked their lives by not doing what the king had commanded them, thus saving the Jewish babies.

As a result of Pharaoh’s decree, Miriam’s father divorced her mother so that no more children would be born, and thus there would be no more baby boys for the Egyptians to murder. Miriam protested vehemently. Though she was only a child of six, her wise words of rebuke caused her father—and all the other men of the generation who followed his example—to reunite with his wife, with the resultant birth of Moses.

Years later, during the Jewish people’s forty-year sojourn in the desert, the “well of Miriam” miraculously traveled with them, in Miriam’s merit. This extraordinary well not only provided drinking waters for the nation, but also provided spiritual nourishment by serving as a mikvah, where women could immerse. Miriam’s well enabled the Jewish people to uphold the laws of family purity, allowing husbands and wives to live in marital harmony.

The focus and essence of Miriam’s life was increasing family unity and harmony. This drive was part of her quintessential self and her path of divine service.

When Miriam witnessed her younger brother willfully separating from his wife, she could not stand by, but voiced her protest, to correct what—to her—was a reprehensible situation.

Miriam’s intentions were pure and upright, but she erred in her basic evaluation of Moses. She applied her own path—and the correct path for every other Jew—to Moses. He, on the other hand, was a unique individual, a prophet like no other. Being such a supreme prophet, standing head and shoulders above others, he was not to be judged by the same yardstick and the same parameters as any other individual—even another prophet as great as Miriam or Aaron.

Miriam was punished for her criticism, despite her proper intentions. Because ultimately, in helping to give guidance to another individual, we have to view him in light of his own individualized path in serving G‑d, even if it is diametrically different from our own.


There are six remembrances that we say daily at the end of our prayers. One of them recalls how Miriam was punished for speaking negatively about her brother.

It is so easy to judge another by the prism of our own glasses. Even the great Miriam, who only wanted to create a better world, looked at her brother’s conduct and misjudged him.

We learn from Miriam that despite our best intentions in trying to rectify a situation or in trying to help another improve, we are never seeing the full picture.

It looks like what she is doing is wrong? It seems as if it is diametrically opposite to everything you know and do? Look again! Don’t go speaking behind her back, even if you are trying to help.

And this lesson is so important and so valuable—and something that is so easy to slip on—that we need to be reminded about it.

Every single day.