In our parsha we find Moses remaining silent twice. In the first occasion we see this, when Zimry presents Kosbi in front of Moses, challenging Moses by their actions that do not comply with the rules of ethics they received in Sinai. Moses not even implying to them that this is an unworthy action, involving immorality or against the law. He simply does not open his mouth and keeps silent.
The second time happens to the daughters of Zelophehad who came to Moses with the question about their legal right to their father’s inheritance. Here, too, Moses maintains silence and directs their question to God.
We know that Moses was able to answer them. Overall, during forty days and forty nights he sat at Mount Sinai and learned Torah from God. After descending the mountain, he memorized his study four more times. Once to Aaron, once to his sons, a third time to the elders of the people and a fourth time to the entire nation. There is no doubt that if he had put in a little effort he would have known how to answer their question.
We can understand Moshe’s silence in the Kosbi and Zimry affair, since he had a personal touch on the matter. Zimry arrived in the company of his Midianite friend Kosby and presents Moshe with an interesting question. Why could Moshe marry Zipporah, also a member of the Midianite people, while Zimry is disabled to express his love to Kosbi, a girl of the same origin as Moses’s wife?
There is a realistic and logical answer, but perhaps because of an emotional condition, Moses wasn’t able to discuss it.
But in the case of the daughters of Zelophehad, in which there was a legal question about inheritance laws, our sages explained that silence as a kind of punishment he got for forgetting the law, because while delegating authority when appointing judges for the people of Israel, Moses told the judges, “The law that will be difficult for them to understand, they shall bring it in front of him”
This reference, considered in the eyes of God as ostensibly presumptuous behavior, caused Moses to disappear from him the law in the case of the daughters of Zelophehad.
This episode teaches us how much we have to be aware of the way and the style we are talking to others, especially if we are leading either an organization or our own family.
Rabbi Refael Cohen