Seventy women, the wives of the men temporarily gifted with prophecy and newly appointed Elders of Israel, gathered in The First Annual Conference of Rebbitzens to discuss the challenges of their communal role. They were thrilled to learn that Tziporah would be the keynote speaker sharing her experiences as the wife of Moses. They were further honored by the presence of Miriam the Prophetess, their leader's big sister. The women breathlessly awaited to learn of the inspiring life that lay ahead of them.
Miriam and Tziporah sat on the side listening to the opening speeches. Miriam was concerned over the dark cloud that seemed to hover over her sister-in-law, which she did not understand until Tziporah turned to her and said, "I pity these women, for their husbands will separate from them as Moses separated from me."
Miriam was shocked. Her heart broke for Tziporah, and she ran to Aaron to complain about Moses' actions and the pain he caused his impeccably charactered wife. Aaron was horrified, and immediately joined Miriam in strategizing how to speak to their younger brother.
At that moment, "God said 'suddenly' to Moses, to Aaron, and to Miriam (Numbers 12:4)." God was angry with Miriam because she ran to Aaron, not to Moses. God was furious that the two siblings were angry before asking Moses for an explanation. God appeared 'suddenly' to demonstrate Moses' uniqueness as a prophet; he, unlike all other prophets, had to be in a constant state of readiness to receive God's messages. After God explained their mistaken assumptions about Moses and that their conversation, no matter how well intended, was considered speaking evil of another, Miriam, the instigator, was punished with leprosy.
Although there was an implied criticism in the suddenness of God's appearance to Miriam and Aaron, it was also a gift; they experienced what it was like to receive a Divine message as did the greatest of all prophets.
Surely, if Miriam and Aaron received such a gift, they must have done right!
Word of Miriam's impurity spread through the camp, and the people made it clear that they would not travel until Miriam was purified. They would wait for her as she had waited to watch what would happen when baby Moses was placed in a basket on the Nile. The people stood by Miriam even after God described His anger with her as a "father spitting in a child's face"!
The people did not focus on Moses' stature as a prophet, but on his being Miriam's baby brother. They were being led by, they were entirely dependent on, a man who lived in a constant state of the highest spiritual readiness, and yet, they saw him as a human being. They understood that even a Moses could have a bossy older sister who demanded that he treat his wife with as much care as he committed to his spiritual readiness.
Moses acted properly in his role of prophet. He failed in his role as a husband; he did not see Tziporah's suffering, her black cloud. Miriam certainly feared to take on her great brother, but she insisted that a leader never miss a single dark cloud. If Moses failed to see his wife's pain, how could he see the suffering of the people he led? God rewarded Miriam's stance by allowing her to experience, just the once, the elevated status of Moses.
Was it worth the price? Miriam would say, "Absolutely!" The people agreed.
All teachers, all parents, all spouses, must pay attention to the dark clouds that result from their behavior, even when acting according to the letter of the law. Is our observance worth causing dark clouds for the children who don't fit in? Is our spiritual readiness worth so much that we can ignore those who are not prepared to live on the highest level? Are we not obligated to address the heaviness we create for so many when we demand too much?
Miriam and Aaron would proudly declare that each cloud is worth addressing, even if we will pay a heavy price. God's "sudden" appearance, His gift to Miriam and Aaron, is His way of honoring those who are willing to address every single dark cloud that hovers in our community.
Rabbi Simcha L. Weinberg
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