Biblical Slander: Trump and Comey

In Behalotecha, this week’s Torah portion,  we read about the time when Aaron and Miriam slander Moses for taking a Kushite wife. There we read:

Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moshe because of the Cushite woman he had married: “He married a Kushite woman!” They said, “Has the Lord spoken only through Moshe? Has He not spoken through us as well?” The Lord heard it. Now Moshe was a very humble man, more so than any other man on earth. Suddenly the Lord called to Moshe, Aaron, and Miriam, “Come out, you three, to the Tent of Meeting.” So the three of them went out. The Lord came down in a pillar of cloud, stopped at the entrance of the Tent, and called out, “Aaron and Miriam!” The two of them came forward; and God said, “Hear these My words: When a prophet of the Lord arises among you, I make Myself known to him in a vision, I speak with him in a dream. Not so with My servant Moshe; he is trusted throughout My household. With him I speak mouth to mouth, plainly and not in riddles, and he beholds the likeness of the Lord. How then did you not shrink from speaking against My servant Moshe!” Still incensed with them, the Lord departed. As the cloud withdrew from the Tent, there was Miriam stricken with snow-white scales!  (Numbers 12:1-10)

While there is plenty to explore here about the issues of race and belonging, for now I am now more interested in the consequences of slandering someone. It seems that Miriam is afflicted with Tzaraat because of her speaking poorly about Moshe. Are there supposed to be such serious consequences for talking about people?

Related there is an excellent story:

Once there was a person who had said awful things about someone. Realizing that he had done something terrible, he went to his rabbi and asked, “Rabbi, what can I do?” The rabbi thought a bit and told the man to bring her a feather pillow. The man brought the pillow, and the rabbi told him to go outside, rip the pillow open, and shake out the feathers. The man did just that. And sure enough as he shuck out the feathers a wind came and spread them everywhere. The man came back to his rabbi and asked what to do next. The rabbi responded, “Now go back outside and pick up all the feathers.” The man looks startled and said, “How can I do that? After the wind, I
don’t even know where they are.” The rabbi said, “Exactly. Just like your words. Once they’re out, it’s impossible to get them back”

This story teaches us that we need to take our words very seriously because it is impossible to recover them once they are in public.

I was thinking about all of this the other day listening to James Comey testimony. From his opening remarks, the fired FBI director made clear he believes President Trump was not truthful when he stated he fired Comey because the FBI was in disarray and poorly led. “Those were lies, plain and simple,” Comey said, adding that Trump “chose to defame me and, more importantly, the FBI” in those remarks. Here are the highlights of his testimony:

From Comey’s testimony it is clear that he feels slandered by the President. We are all waiting to hear those tapes. It seems impossible for Trump’s administration to recover all of those feathers. It is hard to imagine how the President might get out of this misuse of his power and his words unscathed.  Maybe the orange hue of his skin is itself Tzaraat.

To borrow the line from Moshe about Miriam for our great country, “O God, pray heal her!” (Numbers 12:13)



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