Parashat B'ha'alotkha

God Hears, But What We Do Matters Most

Miriam and Aaron's criticism of Moses, and Miriam's punishment of leprosy teach lessons of sibling and communal responsibility.

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Your Guide

Moses intercedes on Miriam's behalf with a prayer. Do you think that he was pleading with God just to cure her, or was there another kind of healing that he was requesting? Do you think that there is a difference between healing and curing?

How do the Israelite people respond when Miriam is stricken with leprosy? Does this surprise you?

By the Way…

How did Miriam know that Moses had neglected his conjugal obligations? Because she saw that Zipporah, his wife, took no care regarding her personal appearance, as is the manner of women. Miriam said to her, "What is the matter with you that you neglect your appearance?" She replied, "Your brother does not mind!" Thus Miriam knew, and she told it to her brother [Aaron], and they both spoke against Moses. Rabbi Nathan says, "Miriam was standing beside Zipporah when a young man ran and told Moses [that Eldad and Medad were prophesying]. When Zipporah heard this, she said, 'Woe unto the wives of these men!' And thus Miriam knew, and she told it to her brother [Aaron], and she "spoke against Moses." (Sifrei, B'midbar 99)

After being stricken with leprosy, Miriam was shut out of the camp for seven days. But she was not shut out of the hearts of her people. Miriam had waited by the Nile to watch over her baby brother in his ark of reeds. Now all of Israel waited for the prophetess, the women's leader, to be healed. (Miki Raver, Listen to Her Voice, Chronicle Books, p. 91)

"Maybe Aaron wonders if he could have protected his sister. Maybe he's thinking, 'Why didn't I challenge God and ask why she got punished and I didn't?' Maybe Aaron suffers over what he perceives is his own cowardice. I imagine Aaron sitting beside his sister's hospital bed with his head in his hands. I see him as just a regular Jew, like the rest of us. Guilty. Afraid. Wondering about the meaning of pain. Struggling with his faith and searching for comfort. But also connected by blood and history and love to his brother, Moses, to his sister, Miriam, and to the Jewish people's unending project of discerning and creating meaning in a seemingly random, sometimes cruel universe." (Rabbi Michelle Hertz, a character in Good Harbor by Anita Diamant, Simon & Schuster, 2001, p. 63)

Your Guide

Based on the midrash in Sifrei, B'midbar, do you think that Miriam intended to disparage her brother?

The above midrash tries to justify Miriam's action because of her outrage toward Moses regarding his not having conjugal relations with his wife. Is there a difference between slander and voicing an objection about a person's behavior?

The author of Listen to Her Voice reminds us that Miriam has played an important role in the life of our people. What was the impact on Miriam as a leader and as a prophetess after she was stricken with leprosy?

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Rabbi Elaine Zecher

Rabbi Elaine Zecher is a rabbi at Temple Israel, Boston, MA.