Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – B’haalot’cha
Moses married Tzipporah. Tzipporah was a Midianite, a distant cousin. The Biblical Midian is modern-day Saudi Arabia. He married her after fleeing Egypt. Having been raised as the grandson of Pharaoh, he rebelled, killed an Egyptian slave-master, and ran away. As per tradition, 40 years pass, and God calls Moses to go back to Egypt to lead Israel into freedom. For the first time, we meet his brother Aaron. Also, even while we meet “a sister” in the early story, we do not get the name “Miriam” until he returns to Egypt. Presumably, neither Aaron nor Miriam knows where Moses went for forty years or anything about who he married.
The very first comments we get from his siblings about Moses’ spouse question his having married that “Cushite” woman. Cush is the son of Ham (Noah’s son) and is, as per the Bible, Black. Not once do Moses and Aaron express appreciation for Moses’ bride. Their only comment refers negatively to her as a person for being “Cushite.”
God’s response says it all. Miriam is afflicted, and Aaron demeaned – by God – for having said such things. Moses pleads with God to be lenient, but God said that she and Aaron needed to learn a lesson about evil-speech.
The sages have debated the nature of the “evil” speech. Some argue that it was because she was Black. Racism goes against God. Others have argued that Aaron and Miriam were angry that Moses married outside of Israel (interfaith). God is loving and respects – loves love, and God punished Miriam and Aaron for complaining over the “interfaith marriage.” Still, other sages argue that Miriam and Aaron thought Moses’ wife was ugly. God condemned them for these words.
Some will argue that the siblings got upset because they believed that this “Cushite” woman was not Tzipporah and that either Moses left his wife for this woman or cheated on his wife with this woman. Either way – God will not tolerate tale-bearing.
At the same time, God argues that Moses is the most humble of people – a servant who has always been willing to take abuse to serve his people. Even after being abused by his siblings, Moses did nothing to retaliate. God steps in to defend Moses. Speaking badly about another who has done no wrong is a crime in God’s eyes.
The siblings also, in the same breath, argue that they are as special as Moses. They are jealous of their brother. Whether Aaron and Miriam acted out of disdain, bigotry, or jealousy, God will not tolerate oppression.
The timing of this text is most exceptional as we face the explosive response to unfettered racism in our streets. The Bible pretty clearly states that to the extent that God picks sides; it is with the oppressed and never the oppressor. It is untenable for the Miriams and Aarons of the world to justify their behaviors that disproportionately create obstacles for non-White communities to share equally in the economic, educational, healthcare, and legal opportunities promised in a nation built on Due Process and the rights to “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” When our insecurities drive our behaviors – when our jealousies dictate how we treat others –especially those with whom we are supposed to share a sacred trust (siblings), we have chosen to be out of line with Godliness.
However many days one goes to utter the words of prayer; however many rituals one performs to perfection; however many witnesses one may have to other good acts, “Rabbi Elazar of Modiin said: one who embarrasses his neighbor and is contemptuous towards the Torah (the teaching of ethics), even though he has to his credit [knowledge of the] Torah and good deeds, he has not a share in the world to come. (Pirke Avot 3). Drop the microphone – bottom line.