Sibling Relationships

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Are there no positive role models of sibling devotion? Some authors portray the partnership of Moses and Aaron in the struggle with Pharaoh as an idyllic relationship. A midrash in Midrash Tanhuma [ed. Buber, 1:24] says of the verse from Ps. 133 that it is a tribute to that fraternal pair. Aaron and Moses together bested Pharaoh. Each had his role. As the startling description in Ex. 4:16 puts it: "He [Aaron] will be a mouth for you [Moses], and you, you will be a god for him." They were to act in concert, like God and a prophet.

We must recall, however, that darker emotions surface more than once while Moses and Aaron endure the struggle for release from Egypt and during the long years of unsettled life in the wilderness. In a clouded portrayal of two siblings grumbling about a third in the twelfth chapter of Numbers, Aaron and Miriam express discontent with Moses' arrogation of power to himself and even with his choice of spouse: "And Miriam, and Aaron with her, spoke against Moses concerning the Cushite wife he had taken […]. And they said, 'Is it but through Moses alone that the Lord has spoken? Has he not spoken through us as well?'"

We have seen that the same biblical tradition that understood how many ways there are for sibling relationships to sour nonetheless savored the sweetness that is inherent in them as well. The rabbinic tradition, which translates so much of the biblical heritage into specific laws, offers surprisingly little guidance for navigating the tensions of sibling relationships. Virtually no obligations are imposed for siblings to care for one another. Perhaps the biblical lesson is assumed to be true: a brother, being "born for adversity," does not have to be bound or prodded by regulation; he will always be there to help.

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