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Low Point

A rabbi suffering from doubts in his faith wrote an anonymous letter to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, asking for advice. He included the name of his city. The Rebbe wrote back, “There is a well-known rabbi in your town who can surely answer all your questions.”

The name of the rabbi mentioned by the Rebbe was the letter-writer himself.

When we hit rock bottom, we often seek answers outside of ourselves. How do we find the strength and courage to climb out of the hole, to begin living again? If we have no hope left inside of us, where can we go to get it?

According to Torah law, a person stricken with tzaraat, commonly translated as leprosy, is isolated outside the camp until he or she recovers. In this week’s Torah portion, we read of Moshe’s sister Miriam, who spoke negatively about her brother, was punished with tzaraat and was sent outside the camp. However, as a mark of respect to Miriam, the Jewish people waited seven days for her, and did not resume their travels until her period of isolation ended.

Rashi states that she earned this honor by her actions after her baby brother Moshe was born. At the time, in Egypt, Pharaoh had ordered all newborn boys to be thrown in the Nile. To circumvent this decree, Moshe’s mother placed him in a waterproof box and set him to sail on the river, planning to come by later to rescue him. Miriam hid in the reeds to watch what would happen. Shortly thereafter, Pharaoh’s daughter came by, noticed the baby and drew him out of the water. When the future leader of the Jewish people refused to suckle from a non-Jewish wet-nurse, Miriam ran home and brought her mother, who nursed her own baby for two years under the employ of Pharaoh’s daughter. Later, her act of waiting for her brother was rewarded, when the Jewish people waited for her in the desert.

In the description of this episode in the Torah, the verse states, “And the people did not travel.” Rashi in his commentary writes, “This honor was accorded to her by G-d.” In the desert, the people traveled by the signal of the clouds, so it was not really in their hands whether or not to leave. When G-d decided it was time to travel, they did so. G-d desired to honor Miriam, and this awakened the respect of the people as well, which was reflected in their waiting seven days for her before traveling onward.

Lashodn hara, slander, is considered so disruptive to the social order that the only recourse is to isolate the people who engage in it outside the camp. This gives them an opportunity to reflect on their behavior and do teshuvah. Yet, being stricken with tzaraat is such a low point for the person that he or she cannot be expected to emerge from that pit alone. It takes an act of G-d, an arousal from above, that enables the person to overcome the shame and stigma and rejoin the camp. G-d honored Miriam by having the people wait for her, and this in turn gave her the strength she needed to become part of the community again.

At the end of exile, too, we have an assurance (Shmuel 14:14) that “He that is banished is not cast from him.” Although we are exiled, G-d will not leave a single one of us behind to languish. He will come personally to lift us out of our personal exile and return us to Jerusalem.

(Adapted from Likutei Sichot vol. 18, pp. 132-140)


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