This week's Torah portion begins with the description of the purification ritual of the "Red Heifer" followed by mentioning of the death of Miriam. Rashi notes the juxtaposition of these two subjects in verses regarding Miriam and states as follows:
The parallels between Miriam and the Red Heifer appear to go beyond the idea of atonement for the Jewish people. The Red Heifer appears related to atonement for Miriam herself. The Red Heifer is said to be an atonement for the cardinal sin of idolatry, related to the Golden Calf (a young cow), but it also appears to be related to a sin that is equal to all three cardinal sins (idolatry, murder, and adultery): Lashon HaRah, evil speech. Miriam's words regarding Moshe, even though they were said with the best of intentions, is the quintessential example of Lashon HaRah. Below are two verses that recount the occurence and Miriam's punishment. The opening verse of the story and the last one:
Regarding the Red Heifer, the first verses of our Torah portion contain very similar language to the above:
2. This is the statute of the Torah which the Lord commanded, saying, Speak to the children of Israel and have them take for you a perfectly red unblemished cow, upon which no yoke was laid.
3. And you shall give it to Eleazar the kohen, and he shall take it outside the camp and slaughter it in his presence.
4. Eleazar the kohen shall take from its blood with his finger and sprinkle it toward the front of the Tent of Meeting seven times.
Rashi's comments also parallel Miriam and her actions towards Moshe:
2) Just as Miriam is introduced in the Torah as Miriam's sister, so to the Red Heifer will always be called by Moshe's name.
3) Just as Miriam attempted to disqualify Moshe's actions regarding his marriage to a "Cushite" (black) woman, which is repeated twice, so too, even just two black hairs disqualify a Red Heifer.
RASHI - had no water: From here [we learn that] all forty years they had the well in Miriam’s merit. — [Ta’anith 9a]
RASHI - Puah: This was Miriam, [called Puah] because she cried (פּוֹעָה) and talked and cooed to the newborn infant in the manner of women who soothe a crying infant. פּוֹעָה is an expression of crying out, similar to “Like a travailing woman will I cry (אֶפְעֶה) " (Isa. 42:14).
After all, knowing the power of words is the main lesson of the entire Book of Bamidbar.