October 22, 2018

Table for Five: Parashat Beha’alotcha

“Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses” […] “and Aaron looked upon Miriam; and, behold, she was leprous” […] And Moses cried unto the Lord, saying: ‘Heal her now, O God, I beseech Thee.’ ” Numbers 12:1-13

Rabbi Tal Sessler
Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel
If you’ve lived long enough, then you know that some people can be great friends when you’re down and in need of help, but paradoxically, not necessarily such great friends when you’re doing great and thriving. It is even sadder and more painful when this betrayal comes from members of your own family. This is what happens to Moses in our parashah.

Miriam and Aaron were always there for Moses when he was down or in need of help. Miriam saved Moses’ life as an infant, and Aaron served as Moses’ spokesperson when Moses suffered from a speech impediment. But now that Moses is a huge “success story,” suddenly his siblings resent him for his elevated spirituality, and speak ill of him and his wife. 

Many people, when faced with such malicious toxicity, can become enraged. They might even be tempted to “return the compliment” to the aggrieving party. Not so Moses. Rather than become incensed with the aggrieving party, Moses prays for her. 

Moses prays for Miriam because he knows that human toxicity is indicative of an emotional and mental inner deficit. 

I recently started “checking out” the Moses approach to toxic individuals. During the birkat Kohanim part of the service, I try to think of people who caused me anguish, and then I meditate on wishing them healing in body and soul. It feels great. It’s cleansing and it’s liberating. It is a Godly thing to do. Give it a shot. It totally works. Take it from Moses.

David Sacks
Television writer and podcaster at torahonitunes.com
Who do you pray for? And when do you pray?

I never knew you could pray for every person you come into contact with, and that you could pray for them anywhere.

For instance, let’s say you’re walking down the street and you see someone in a wheelchair. You can pray that they should be able to walk. When you see a couple on a date at a restaurant, you can pray that if they’re meant for each other, Hashem should open their eyes and make it easy for them. When you see a pregnant woman, you can pray that she should have a healthy child. When you see two people arguing, you can pray that there should be peace. When you’re driving and see a homeless person, you can pray that they should have food, shelter and a second chance at life. When you hear a siren, any siren, you can pray that Hashem should bring salvation.

Many blessings will come to you if you live this way. Your heart will be open. You’ll have a good eye for everyone. You’ll realize the interconnectedness of all souls. You’ll be in the moment. You’ll realize the wonderfulness of prayer at all times, not just when you’re in a formal setting.

But even deeper, you’ll embody the words King David wrote in the Psalms: Va’ani tefilati, which literally means, “And I am a prayer.”  It’s true. You can become a walking, living, breathing prayer.

And this is the secret to how it begins.

Rabbi Leonard Sharzer
The Finklestein Institute
Excerpted from jts.edu
Our sages have told us that the reason God became so angry at Miriam and Aaron was that they spoke out against Moses behind his back.

Today, online bullying has become a serious problem, especially among adolescents. It is so easy to do. It is so easy to be anonymous. It is so easy to gang up on those who are vulnerable and unable to defend themselves. We must ask how many online bullies would have acted as they did if they had faced their victim directly and seen firsthand the suffering they had caused.

The word “friend” has become a verb and connotes an entirely different kind of relationship than the noun used to. And our thoughts are measured by their number of characters rather than the character they reflect.

Modern communication comes with risks and at a price. We risk inflicting pain, intentionally or unintentionally, and we risk making mistakes that cannot be undone. We pay a price in empathy and intimacy, the kind that comes from truly seeing the tzelem Elohim, the image of God, in our fellow human being.

Our sages found a warning about lashon hara and motzi shem ra (“slander”) in this story. This is not a story about evil people — Miriam and Aaron are heroic figures. But even heroes can give in to this all-too-easy transgression. How much more so for the rest of us?

Rabbi Laura Geller
Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills
While Eldad and Medad were prophesizing, Miriam and Zipporah were talking. Miriam said, “When the prophetic spirit rested on Eldad and Medad, everyone was happy. Their children are happy. Their wives are happy.” Zipporah responded, “Happy are their children, but woe to their wives.” “Why” Miriam asked, “from the day that your brother received the prophetic spirit, he has not approached me as his wife?”  “And so Miriam went and spoke to Aaron and the two of them complained about Moses.”

Recall that all three, Moses, Aaron and Miriam, are prophets. Miriam said “the prophetic word was upon me but I did not keep away from my husband.” Aaron said, “The word was upon me, but I did not keep away from my wife … but he, because of his presumptuous spirit, kept away from his wife.” In other words, Moses was so busy being an important person, a leader of his community, that he wasn’t able to be there for his wife. 

I love this image. Sisters-in-law sharing the intimate details of their lives and reaching out for support when a marriage is in trouble. A sister-in-law, trying to be helpful, tells one brother that the other was getting his priorities wrong, neglecting his own family for the sake of a higher calling. Miriam seems to be saying that there is no higher calling than being there for your own family. 

Maybe there was a better way for her to say it, but maybe it needed to be said. 

Rabbi Elaine Zecher
Temple Israel of Boston
Excerpted from myjewishlearning.com
Miriam discovers that Moses’ wife, Zipporah, has a fair grievance against her husband and wants to help her sister-in-law. She shares the information with her brother Aaron, and they both express concern about Moses’ behavior.

God hears this conversation and summarizes the divine relationship with Moses, reiterating that God confides solely in Moses. Miriam still gets leprosy. Notice the next course of events: Aaron pleads with Moses, who then beseeches God to heal Miriam. Aaron respects Moses’ divine connection. Their sister has a grave illness, and each brother reacts appropriately.

We will never be able to provide a rational reason for this case of leprosy, but we can try to understand the reactions and the relationships of those involved. The Israelite people waited for their prophetess to be healed. Their reaction speaks of a great respect they must have had for her. As for Miriam’s brothers, they sought to help her through their supplications, first Aaron to Moses, then Moses to God.

Let us remember that it all started when Miriam voiced a concern regarding the relationship between Zipporah and Moses. God may hear what we say, but it is the human interaction in relationships that affects the way in which we understand our world.