My all-time favorite midrash is a commentary on Numbers/Bamidbar 12:1ff. It identifies Moses’ “Cushite wife,” against whom Miriam complains, as the black ink of the Torah: in this view Miriam believes that Moses has become too wed to the letters of the Torah and its literal meaning, while she continues to advocate for the white space, the oral/folk traditions in Revelation.
I love this commentary because
1) it makes sense of an otherwise obscure passage;
2) it doesn’t require twisting out of shape any of the larger narrative context; and
3) it is both radical and faithful.
More on this midrash, including a “Sermon Slam” story from this episode.
Sadly, however, I cannot tell you where exactly this commentary is to be found. I am sure that I didn’t invent it myself. I believe I was directed to it through end notes in The Five Books of Miriam.
So, this seems a particularly good spot to mention The Five Books of Miriam, edited by Ellen Frankel and published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1996.
The dialogue of voices — between “Our Daughters,” “Our Bubbes,” “The Ancient Rabbis,” “Sages in Our Own Times,” and individual women, such as Leah (Torah), Huldah (Tanach), Beruriah (Talmud) — seem particularly appropriate given the variety of voices heard in this portion: Hobab, the people, Joshua, Miriam and Aaron, Moses and God.
Frankel’s device is a great way to show some of the interaction over the years between sources and ideas…and to carry forward that interaction. Another great feature of this book is that it’s eminently readable without reference to the notes, while nicely substantial end notes are offered for those who want them.