Remember Miriam, But for What?
One of the narratives repeated in this week’s parsha concerns Miriam, Moses’ sister, who spoke ill of her brother, as recounted earlier in the Book of Numbers. As a result of this “indiscretion,” she was afflicted with tzara’as (a skin lesion, which renders a person ritually unclean and in quarantine).  In this week’s parsha, the Torah admonishes us to be careful in treating these skin lesions. Then the Torah exhorts us to “Remember what G‑d, your G‑d, did to Miriam on the way when you left Egypt.”
Rashi gives a simple explanation for the juxtaposition of these two themes. Tzara’as is punishment for slander. Miriam contracted tzara’as because she spoke ill of her brother. The Torah continues that to avoid this punishment one should remember how Miriam was afflicted.
Three questions arise when we analyze this verse:
First, why does the Torah focus on Miriam? Isn’t mentioning her name in this context itself a form of slander? Why would the Torah, which even avoids mentioning something derogatory about a non-kosher animal, go out of its way to put down Miriam?
 Moreover, Miriam was arguably one of the most righteous people ever to have inhabited this earth. In many ways she is considered to be an equal to Moses. In her merit the Jews were given water in the parched desert. Miriam is credited with having convinced her parents, and all of the Jewish people, to continue with their family life despite Pharaoh’s cruel decrees. Miriam was a prophetess of note. Couldn’t the Torah have stated that people should avoid speaking ill of others, lest they risk tzara’as? Why the emphasis that it happened to Miriam? Why place such a holy woman in an unfavorable light?
One might answer that a lesson involving an actual person is more effective than one taught through a fictional character. The moral of the lesson is further reinforced when we know that a woman as righteous as Miriam herself can be afflicted.
These answers, however sound, do not fully justify the Torah’s mention of her by name here and rehashing an incident for which she was punished and fully absolved. The Talmud states that one may not remind a penitent of his or her sins because it causes them distress. Doing so, the Talmud states is ona’as devarim-verbal abuse; a serious crime.
The question becomes even more insistent when we recall that Jewish tradition requires us to recite this verse as one of the Six Remembrances that a Jew must remember daily, juxtaposing it with the Exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Why should Miriam’s transgression be etched in the collective memories of Jews for all time? How could we do that to anyone, let alone to one of the most righteous of individuals?! 
Where and When   
The second question pertains to the end of the verse.  Why does the Torah emphasize the where and when of the incident with Miriam: “on the way, when you left Egypt?”
And thirdly, why does the Torah say it happened “when you left Egypt,” when it actually occurred about a year after the Exodus? In the Book of Numbers the narrative of Miriam’s humbling was linked with the spies who returned from scouting the land with a slanderous report. Rashi explains that the spies who witnessed Miriam’s punishment should have learned a lesson from her not to indulge in slander. The spy story—and by extension the narrative of Miriam—occurred over a year after the Exodus.  Why then does the Torah refer to it as if it happened right after they departed from Egypt?
A Tzadik Sinning – An Oxymoron
To answer these three questions we must resolve an even greater anomaly: how it was possible that a woman of the caliber of Miriam to disparage Moses? A truly righteous person is remains above the pettiness of common individuals. The righteous and holy woman that was Miriam certainly was above slander and she certainly knew the greatness of Moses.
In truth, when the Torah records the transgressions of the most righteous and holy individuals—such as Abraham, Moses, Aaron, Miriam, et al. — one must not take it at face value.  The tzadik, as Chassidus teaches, has completely transformed his or her evil impulse into an impulse to doing only good. For the tzadik to willingly transgress is like a sane person inflicting severe bodily damage on himself. The challenge for the tzadik is not in dealing with personal evil but with maintaining a constant striving to reach higher and higher levels of righteousness and holiness.
In light of this enlightened view of the tzadik the question comes into even sharper focus. How can a tzadik do something that is contrary to G‑d’s will?
Growth of a Tzadik
The answer is that G‑d sees how the tzadik wants to grow and knows that the strongest spurts of growth occur only after one has fallen. But there is a hitch.  The tzadik will never voluntarily do something to degrade himself and can therefore never grow as a Ba’al Teshuvah-Penitent can. G‑d, therefore, orchestrates the tzadik’s “fall” so that he or she can be helped to rise to an exponentially higher level. The tzadik’s “sins” are, in actuality, opportunities for him or her to reach higher levels of connection to G‑d.
In this context, there are two categories of tzadikkim. The first type of tzadik is obsessed with his or her spiritual state. It is well known that one cannot grow spiritually without helping others. This tzadik therefore does everything within his or her power to help others materially and spiritually. However, this tzadik’s focus remains on solidifying his or her connection to G‑d through spiritual advancement.
There is another category of tzadik, whose entire raison d’etre is to lead and nurture the Jewish people. Everything they do, including their personal spiritual development, is subordinated to the needs of the Jewish people. They are willing to sacrifice everything—material or spiritual assets—for their people.
Thus, when G‑d wants to grant them their greatest wish, G‑d orchestrates their temporary decline in ways that will be beneficial, first and foremost, to the Jewish people.
Miriam, along with Moses and Aaron, was clearly in the second category.  She was a faithful leader of the Jewish nation, whose obsession was her flock and not her own spiritual advancement.
Thank You for Shattering the Tablets
Another illustration of this phenomenon is Moses who shattered the tablets, our Sages tell us, to save the Jewish people from terrible calamity due to their transgressions with the Golden Calf. There was nothing holier or more precious to Moses than the Torah, particularly the very Tablets containing the Ten Commandments. Moses was willing to sacrifice his relationship with G‑d, as it was channeled through the Torah, for the sake of his Jewish people. G‑d therefore induced Moses to shatter the Tablets to save his rebellious but beloved nation.
The greatest praise that can be given to Moses is for his desire to sacrifice everything for his people. Indeed, this is how Rashi explains the very last verse in the Torah, which speaks of Moses performing great wonders in the presence of all of Israel. According to Rashi this praise alludes to his shattering of the Tablets, in response to which G‑d exclaims “yasher co’ach she’shibata, more strength to you for having shattered them.”
Similarly, it may be suggested that Miriam’s mild slander of Moses was induced by G‑d so that all future generations of Jews should learn how damaging speaking ill of others can be. Miriam, as a faithful leader of the Jewish people for her generation and for all future generations was more than happy to be remembered for eternity as the one who suffered on account of her “indiscretion.” No greater praise can be given to this type of tzadik who sacrifices for his or her people.
In light of the above we can now reinterpret the verse which states: “Remember what G‑d your G‑d did to Miriam on the way, when you left Egypt.”
It does not say remember how G‑d afflicted Miriam with tzara’as, but simply “what G‑d did to Miriam.” In addition to the simple meaning, it also conveys the idea that G‑d was the one who induced her to disparage her brother in order to suffer the consequences.
Each time we remember Miriam’s “transgression” and particularly how she suffered for it, we are singing her greatest praise. Her entire being was selflessly subordinated to the well-being of the Jewish people for all times.
Catalyst for Redemption
To magnify her praise, the Torah adds “on the way, when you left Egypt.” Prior to the Exodus, Moses was concerned that the Jewish people might not deserve liberation because of the many slanderers in their midst. Their slander risked the division of the people into fragments rather than remaining a cohesive whole. To be liberated, it was necessary for them to be united as one nation, all their flaws notwithstanding.
Thus, when Miriam suffered the consequences of her “slander” and became a powerful lesson for all future generations, she guaranteed that the Redemption dynamic would endure, alive and well, thereby empowering us to be liberated from our own Galus.
We, too, are on the way to our own Exodus. Indeed, we are at the end of the road and are poised to enter into the Promised Land with Moshiach. Just as we needed to learn the lesson from Miriam at the beginning of our journey, today as we stand at the end of the road, it behooves us to invoke Miriam’s contribution to the process of Redemption.
Whenever we learn the lesson of Miriam and engage in positive speech—certainly refraining from negative speech of others—we enhance Miriam’s position and empower her to unleash the forces of Redemption on our behalf.