Even in their 80s, siblings don’t always get along.
At the end of the parshah, Miriam and Aharon speak lashon hara about their brother, Moshe, and are swiftly struck with tzara’as. The verses only mention explicitly that Miriam was punished, but Chazal say that Aharon was as well (Shabbos 97a).
Strangely, between the accounting of his siblings’ gossip and their resulting punishment, the Torah interjects the following description of Moshe: “And this man, Moshe, was exceedingly humble, from any person on the face of the earth” (Bamidbar 12:3). This verse is the basis for the widely-used epithet “anav m’kol adam” in reference to Moshe Rabbeinu. While certainly a fitting characterization, what does Moshe’s self-effacement have to do with the incident of Miriam and Aharon’s lashon hara? Why does the Torah insert this descriptor in the middle of the narrative as if it is somehow part of the story?
The Ramban suggests that the inclusion of this phrase reveals a remarkable dimension of this famous incident - a detail not often discussed. After reporting the derogatory words of Miriam and Aharon, the Torah provides a subtle clue that Moshe was actually present throughout their conversation! The fact that there is no record of Moshe’s response to his siblings’ criticism is not indicative of his absence, but a demonstration of his profound humility. Surely there were plenty of valid defenses or sharp retorts that he could have utilized, but instead, he absorbed the unfounded critique and allowed Hashem to respond on his behalf. This is the relevance and greatness of Moshe’s humility.
Rabbi Baruch HaLevi Epstein zt”l (in Tosefes B’racha) added that this praise takes on further significance when considering that the offenders were dear members of Moshe’s family. Remaining patient and composed at the office or on the subway is hardly the greatest challenge. It would take a very volatile personality or an extreme provocation for someone to snap in public at co-workers or complete strangers. However, in the confines of one’s family, in the familiarity of one’s home, even the smallest annoyance can elicit a harsh response. Often, those we love the most receive the least of our patience and understanding.
Even a person with great humility and self-control may have struggled to remain silent in the face of blatant, unjustified criticism from his siblings; Moshe was on another level. He was not just humble and unassuming when dealing with most people; he was “anav m’kol adam.” This phrase, Rabbi Epstein continued, is usually translated as “more humble than all people,” but could also be understood as “humble in the presence of all people” - even those often taken for granted. Where others would have lashed out at family, Moshe remained in control.
Attaining the heights of Moshe’s humility might seem out of reach. However, by being mindful of this tendency to become easily frustrated at home, we can strive to be just a little more patient with those we care about a lot.