Towards the end of this week’s Torah reading, Parshas Beha’aloscha, a story transpired in which Miriam slandered her brother Moses in conversation with her brother Aaron, and accused Moses of acting incorrectly. Immediately afterwards, the verse says (12:3) that Moses was the most humble person on earth.

The Ramban quotes an explanation from our Sages as to what this verse is coming to tell us specifically here. The Ramban says that what the verse is intending to tell us is that these words of criticism were said in front of Moses, but due to the great humility Moses possessed, he did not respond. Although he was justified in his behavior which Miriam criticized, he was silent and did not argue. Because he was so humble and wouldn’t argue to fend off the slander hurled at him, God intervened and reprimanded Miriam for her actions.

You can uphold the world!

This trait displayed by Moses is a very great virtue we should all strive to emulate. Keeping quiet when being wrongly blamed and sullied is a most honorable virtue which elevates a person tremendously and brings a person great benefit in many ways. As difficult as it may be, it is well worth it.

The Talmud says (Shabbos, 88b) that someone who accepts insults from another person with contentment, in view of it as an act of God, and does not answer back, will be labeled as a lover of God and will merit a bright countenance, shining bright like the sun. Furthermore, the Talmud says (Chulin, 89a) that the merit of someone who refrains from answering back when insulted upholds the existence of the entire world.

The Shevet Mussar (chapter 20) advises every person to be careful to be one of the people who swallow insults without answering back. To show how important this virtue is, he quotes an astonishing Medrash. When King David was being chased by his son Avshalom, who wanted to kill him, he met a person by the name of Shimi ben Gera. Shimi Ben Gera cursed David, insulted him, and hurled rocks at him. But King David did not retaliate. Out of all of King David’s great deeds, it was because of this one of remaining silent that he merited to become the fourth leg supporting the spiritual chariot of God.

To tell or remain silent?

A man was once criticized by an acquaintance for doing something that did not conform to Torah law. Later on, the man discovered that he did act correctly, and the one who criticized him was mistaken. The man was in a dilemma as to what he should do. Should he go back and tell his friend that he was wrong or should he remain silent about it? The man brought the question to Rabbi Avigdor Miller. Rabbi Miller advised the man to keep quiet and said, “Even though it would be beneficial to that person to show him his mistake, it is of greater benefit for yourself not to say anything. So be selfish. It is a huge merit to keep your mouth closed when someone says something negative to you.”

Withholding brings salvation and greatness

Swallowing our pride and remaining silent in the face of offensive comments requires extreme discipline. Natural human tendency is to shoot back with a sharp line of our own, or at least to speak up in defense of ourselves. Going against our nature and refraining from any sort of retaliation or verbal response is a tremendous deed. There are many stories about people who merited salvations in the merit of refraining from responding to an insult. But even more so, the greatness one acquires by holding back from retorting to a hurtful comment is indescribable.

Don’t wait! Start small.

We don’t need to wait for a major confrontation to take place to exercise this virtue. There are plenty of opportunities in our day-to-day lives to gain this merit. A person is always subject to some degree of criticism from the people he is surrounded by. It can be a spouse, a child, a friend, a person at work or a stranger you meet in the street. Whenever this happens, we tend to jump to reply with some kind of defense or a negative comment to the person who criticized us. We feel compelled to respond in some way. But do we really have to? How about instead, just keeping quiet and letting it slide? We don’t have to succumb to the urge to answer back. We don’t have to be Moses to humble ourselves a little bit and restrain ourselves from answering back. Although we may not be found guilty of any sin for reacting to an insult with a comment of our own, how can we let such a golden opportunity to achieve so much greatness slip out of our hands? by Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber

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