Be-Ha'alotecha: Miriam, Isaiah: We've Got Your Backs

This article first appeared in the IRAC newsletter

"Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Kushite woman whom he had married: for he had married a Kushite woman." --Numbers 12:1

Beha'alotcha contains a stunning power play. While, Moses, Aaron and Miriam have been the Israelites' on-the-ground leadership triumvirate, an important new person seems to be coming on the scene according to this verse. The Torah is sparse with words, so a redundancy like we see here must have a great deal of meaning. What could that be? Many have puzzled over this. It was while visiting Cape Town, South Africa, and hurrying through the
Gold Museum to a meeting, that my head about turned around backwards as we passed a doorway announcing an exhibition on "Kush: The Ancient Gold Capital of Africa."

As leaders are wont to do, it would seem that Moses added a wife, the daughter of the leader of a powerful country, Kush, the gold capital of Africa. Small wonder Moses and Miriam would be putting their heads together. It would further seem that Moses and Aaron must have had a chat when Miriam was in the powder room, for not long, just down the parshiot pathway, after Miriam gets demeaned and demoted, Aaron will be appointed high priest and Miriam's demise will be noted. All within a very few columns of Torah.

Power is one of many commodities people at the top aren't big on sharing. Having their actions questioned, doesn't go down any better today than it did back then. If you read the portion very closely, you'll see that when Moses is in a scene, God isn't and vice versa. It's hard to imagine this isn't one of the origins of the Wizard of Oz motif. Try this: If you were wearing a T-shirt with the Hebrew name of Moses on it and standing in front of a mirror, what word would you see reflected back at you? Mem shin hey would become hey shin mem. Mosheh would look like HaShem. Spin and political power, "doing it with mirrors" is found right there, in the Torah.

Adding another person to the mix of leadership, now that would be something to talk about. Or so it would seem that was the thought of Miriam, who, oops…gets shut out of the camp. Forget the bit about leprosy, scholars now know that there wasn't any on the face of the earth during the Biblical period and they no longer translate tza'ra-at that way. You'd look half dead if this happened to you too after team leading your people to freedom. In fact, neither Miriam, nor the Kushite woman (who rapidly disappears in the text) will get power from this point on…except, from the people:

"Miriam was shut outside of the camp for seven days, and the people didn't travel until she was gathered back in." Numbers 12:15

One of the earliest recorded sit-ins perhaps. Justice demands such subversive action, even in the face of God. While Abraham was in a good position to argue with "God," in our day and age we have many good, legal yet potentially effectively subversive options.

There's the movement called Collaborative Consumerism advocated by Harris, Gorenflow and Doctorow in Share or Die: Voices of the Get Lost Generation in the Age of Crisis (New Society Publishers, 2012). This seems a natural for Jews interested in justice for all. In an article on this movement Beth Buczynsky suggests:

"Sit down with yourself (or some friends) and talk about what you’ve got, what you need, and what you could live without. Take stock of what you’d be willing to share, rent, or give away."


Then Ruth gives you a vast number of links for sharing and finding commodities, including power.

This parsha opens with hoisting "the lamp" – symbol of the Tree of Life, of Torah, of how we hear/discern Divine guidance for healthy and holy living. Our hands hoist, we are the branches of "Godding" on this plane of being. Isaiah tells us, what is this light? It is: "The light of the Messiah, when it blazes in the heart, teaches one to dignify all people." [Isaiah 11:10]

What injustices do you want to act upon? Here are some legal, and yet creatively subversive approaches for discussion. Which might want to adapt for local or Internet, aka, potentially global, action?

1. Dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has created a protest map of China made out of cans of baby formula.

2. Vegan Jews protest animal Holocaust by
tattooing livestock numbers on themselves.

Yarn bombing in Beirut by Hoda Baroudi and Maria Hibrito. "We are tyred."

4. Street theater based on 100 loaves of Wonder Bread to protest loss of humane-ity in corporate America.


5. Create dissent poetry. This example is Israeli-style.


6. Kol HaNeshama and groups throughout Florida hosted a traveling slavery museum.

7. Young Israelis and Palestinians flash mob for peace.


8. "Put Your Friends in Jail" app facilitates protest against indefinite detentions.


9. Let voices ring out for freedom--start your own version of Occupy Rosh Hashanah.


10. And, by all means, consider joining the Virtual March for Immigration Reform, March 22-23, 2013. Susanna Heschel reminded us in her address on the occasion of her father's 40th anniversary of his solidary march in Selma: "For my father, though, the march was not simply a political demonstration. It was a religious occasion. He saw it as a revival of prophetic Judaism's political activism and also of the traditions of Hassidism…according to which walking could be a spiritual experience."

How can all of these actions for justice possibly be "kosher"? The Ramban (Nahmanides, early 13th Century) explains

Speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them: You shall be holy, for I, your God, am holy. Initially, God said that you should observe the laws and statutes that God had commanded you. Now God says that, with respect to what God has not commanded, you should likewise take heed to do the good and the right in God’s eyes, for God loves the good and the right. And this is a great matter. For it is impossible to mention in the Torah all of a person’s actions toward his neighbors and acquaintances, all of his commercial activity, and all social and political institutions. --On1Foot, American Jewish World Service Translation


Consider the alternative and let us not be drawn down to violence toward one another. May 9, 2013: "Thousands of Ultra-Orthodox, jeered, spit and threw rocks at the 400 Women of the Wall who prayed…" Let justice ring out: "Historic Victory in Court for Women of the Wall." Unfortunately that struggle continues...


Holy One of Blessing, and your holy prophets -- Miriam, Isaiah and so many more. Your inspiration is ever with us. We've got your back, may the "minyans" of those for justice be blessed to increase.