Beha’alotekha in “Speaking Against Moshe.”
Beha’alotekha in “Speaking Against Moshe.”
An abridged version of a teaching from R. Kalonymus Kalpan Halevi Epstein, the Maor vaShamesh.
וַתִּקַּח מִרְיָם הַנְּבִיאָה אֲחוֹת אַהֲרֹן אֶת הַתֹּף בְּיָדָהּ וַתֵּצֶאןָ כָל הַנָּשִׁים אַחֲרֶיהָ בְּתֻפִּים וּבִמְחֹלֹת: וַתַּעַן לָהֶם מִרְיָם שִׁירוּ לַי־הֹוָ־ה כִּי גָאֹה גָּאָה סוּס וְרֹכְבוֹ רָמָה בַיָּם
Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her with their timbrels and dancing. And Miriam called out to them, “Sing to the LORD, Who is most exalted; horse and rider He has thrown into the sea.” Exodus 15:20-21
Why does Moses say I will sing to the LORD, in the future tense, while Miriam says Sing to the LORD, in the present tense?
It seems there is a hint in the teaching from the Talmud that “In the future the Holy One of Blessing will hold a dance for the righteous, and will sit among them, and each of them will point to God, saying, “This is God for Whom I have hoped.” We can understand the connection if we look at how the cosmos was made. Continue reading
[Re-posted from here...a few days late, I know]
In this week’s parsha, one of the most famous of all of the happenings of the Israelites’ forty years in the desert occurs when Moshe hits the rock to produce water. In the absence of his sister Miriam, who has just died, the source of water – which is midrashically attributed to the Well of Miriam, a well that provided the nation with water on account of Miriam’s righteousness – has disappeared, and therefore Hashem offers an alternative. However, a detail of the story that I do not remember hearing is that Hashem actually tells both Moshe and his (grieving) brother Aharon to speak to the rock, which neither are recorded as doing, as instead Moshe hits the rock (twice) to produce water. The presence or lackthereof of Aharon is noteworthy in so many of the stories told of the forty years in the desert, but maybe none so much as this one, as this sin is explicitly cited as the sole reason why neither Moshe nor Aharon will merit to lead the nation into Cana’an. If Aharon is held equally accountable, even though it was Moshe who struck the rock, it stands to reason that Aharon was expected, in some sense, to stop Moshe from striking the rock.
My brother strays
From talking to striking rock
Not a word from me
this parsha is one that sits heavy with death. for one thing, early on, we get the description of what to do when one comes in contact with a dead body. and then, as if the Torah was simply giving us the procedure in order to prepare us for what’s to come, we learn of the sudden death of miriam. the Torah simply writes, “ותמת מרים ותקבר שם, miriam died and was buried there” (bamidbar 20:1). miriam’s death coincides with a severe water drought, leading the people to once again bewail their awful fate in the desert, preferring to perish with those who have already died rather than continue to live on the brink of death.
with all the action focused on the drought, we quickly move on from miriam’s death to the infamous story of moshe and the rock. God orders moshe to command the rock to produce water and instead moshe strikes the rock twice. hard. the good news: copious amounts of water flows forth. the bad news: God punishes moshe’s lack of faith and forbids him to enter the promised land.
just a short while later, same parsha, we find out that aharon dies. however, here, both the telling and experience of death is totally different from the way in which we experience miriam’s. the Torah writes, “the whole community knew that aharon had breathed his last. all the house of israel bewailed aharon thirty days” (numbers 20:29). while moshe and eleazar accompany aharon to the top of mount hor to be buried, the rest of the community waits at the bottom, mourning the loss of their great leader.
i am struck by the disparity in how moshe and the people experience these two deaths, both siblings of moshe, both leaders of the community. the only way i can make sense of this seeming injustice is to look towards midrash.
i want to suggest that with miriam’s death, the community was overwhelmed with a water crisis so great that the immediacy of mourning had to be pushed aside in order to address the emergency before them. however, when we push aside feelings of grief or anger, they don’t just disappear. we can’t just not mourn someone, simply because it’s inconvenient. rather, these feelings manifest themselves in unsuspected places, perhaps in inappropriate moments.
for moshe, this manifestation of grief occurs when he struck out against the rock. it wasn’t some crisis of faith in God that caused him to strike the rock rather than command it. but rather, we see a picture of a man, grieving, overburdened, and struggling to keep himself and a people together, in the face of the death before them.
i needed some time
to grieve for she that saved me
woman of water
may we find the time and the space we need to process through our loss,
“One part cafe, one part Jewish bookstore, and one part events venue, ‘Miriam’ is one-stop Jewish shopping for the body, mind and spirit. The acts of reading, eating and being entertained feed off of one another. By simply being in the building you can’t help but be funneled into pop-culture, high-end design, culinary delight and Judaism…”