I have always lived among priests and prophets. I know that some divine encounters prove more terrifying than illuminating. And I believe there is much to be learned about Revelation by turning away from Sinai’s thunder and lightening.

Consider for a moment that time Miriam and Aaron complained about Moses and his black wife and God responded by covering Miriam with white scales. [Numbers 12:1ff. Tzipporah also appears in Exodus chapters 3, 4, and 18]…


…So, what does this incident tell you about Revelation?

Follow me for a moment on a “tzipporah-eye view,” looking two directions at once to see ahead. [“Tzipporah” = “bird”]

One bird’s eye focuses in on the siblings, without regard to gender. Here are three powerful individuals, all within spitting distance, shall we say, of divine Revelation. Genuine caring and concern between the siblings is evident, and each is deeply committed to community and the evolving Torah.

And yet, this story shows, understanding anyone else’s piece of Revelation – even the teaching of a prophet sibling, whom you love and respect – has always been hard. How much more so must non-siblings in your time work to understand each other’s perspectives!…

Recording from DC’s recent Sermon Slam, a project of Open Quorum. Background notes and sources.
Full text.




Background Notes/Sources

Tzipporah is a footnote-lovers’ dream. She appears only three or four times in the Torah: she is called by name only in Ex 2:21, Ex 4:25, and Ex 18:2 and is possibly the “Cushite” woman who is the focus of Numbers chapter 12. Yet it is this marginal character who stares down God (or a messenger thereof) in order to save her family–and, as a result, the Israelites. In three short verses, a woman who lives largely in the footnotes, or in the white space between the Torah’s letters, makes possible the redemption of the Israelites and the birth of the Jews.

Miriam is closely connected with her brother’s life, even before it begins: In midrash, she is responsible for insisting, at age 6, that the Hebrew couples (including her parents) who had separated during Pharaoh’s decree, remarry and produce childrenamong whom is Moses (Sotah 12a). She follows her brother’s passage down the Nile, is there to offer a wet-nurse to Pharaoh’s daughter (Ex 2:4-7).

Nice review of traditional midrash on this episode in Numbers 12.

Note on the midrash suggesting Moses’ “cushite wife” is the Torah’s black ink.

Discussion of tzaraat and prophecy

This midrash began with “Miriam and the White Space,” developed for Fabrangen Havurah’s omer blog last year, and “One Woman’s Conclusion,” also written originally for Fabrangen.

See also Drawing Back: Zipporah’s View

BACK

Tzipporah’s View: Midrash

I have always lived among priests and prophets. I know that some divine encounters prove more terrifying than illuminating. And I believe there is much to be learned about Revelation by turning away from Sinai’s thunder and lightening.

Consider for a moment that time Miriam and Aaron complained about Moses and his black wife and God responded by covering Miriam with white scales.

Some think the issue was my intimate relations with Moses or his taking another wife. But the real story is that Miriam and Aaron thought Moses had become wed to the black ink, the letter of the Torah.

…Now, Miriam and I learned early on that we would rarely see eye-to-eye, especially when her brother was concerned. But this was a rare time. And Miriam was not the only one worrying that my husband’s singular experience of Torah was keeping him from understanding others.

Aaron, as teacher of the sacrificial system, was affected. But it was hardest on Miriam, who taught the women.

Miriam believed the white space was the natural province of women, seldom addressed directly by Torah but nonetheless charged with putting its commands into practice. And, by then, we all saw that women – and anyone for whom gender and sex are not so black and white – would receive little ink. Instead, we would exist largely between the letters.

Miriam once told me of this dream:
God was showing her swirling white spaces between the letters, promising infinities of Torah, what she would teach the women and perspectives not yet imagined. Then suddenly she found herself with Moses in the back of a Second Century classroom listening to Rabbi Akiva ben Joseph expound a strange law. Her brother was comforted when Akiva explained that “the law was given unto Moses at Sinai,” but Miriam awoke in a sweaty terror.

For Moses, a similar vision meant freedom from the urgency to unpack all of Revelation himself. For Miriam, though, Akiva’s heaps and heaps of laws represented a threat to the Torah’s future flexibility.

She was actually comforted by the snowy scales, seeing tzaraat as a sign validating her connection to the white space. None of us realized at the time just how thoroughly her wish would be fulfilled: My prophetess sister-in-law never speaks again quoted in the Torah, her name next inked to announce her death.

Faced with Miriam’s scales, Moses cried out for healing, begging that his sister not be “like dead,” while Aaron lamented, “it usually takes death to separate siblings, but the laws of tzaraat forced us to separate from Miriam while she is alive.”

So, what does this incident tell you about Revelation?

Follow me for a moment on a “tzipporah-eye view,” looking two directions at once to see ahead.

One bird’s eye, focuses in on the siblings, without regard to gender. Here are three powerful individuals, all within spitting distance, shall we say, of divine Revelation. Genuine caring and concern between the siblings is evident, and each is deeply committed to community and the evolving Torah.

And yet, this story shows, understanding anyone else’s piece of Revelation – even the teaching of a prophet sibling, whom you love and respect – has always been hard. How much more so must non-siblings in your time work to understand each other’s perspectives!

The other bird’s eye sees the sad irony of male leaders passionately lamenting their sister’s “like deadness,” while participating in a system regularly rendering women voiceless and invisible, “like dead,” in so many ways. This eye has seen much shifting of the gender landscape over time.

And yet, this story asks: How many others remain unseen and unheard, “like dead” in a sense, due to unrecognized prejudices and unexamined power structures?

I have long been an outsider — I was raised by the Priest of Midian, remember; it is one of the few things the black ink tells you — and simultaneously an insider of the Israelite camp.

I am deeply grateful for the Revelation that sets the black-wife protest in its deep, solid black ink, allowing me to speak from within its deep, fluid white space.

I urge you to join me in using the slim expanse of our forward-looking binocular vision, to spy out a multi-perspective-honoring, power-structure-examining, outsider-friendly approach to the hard work of celebrating each person’s piece of Revelation.

BACK

Join the conversation! 1 Comment

  1. […] More on this midrash, including a “Sermon Slam” story from this episode. […]

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Category

Bamidbar, contemporary midrash, God, Shavuot, Women in Judaism

Tags

, , , ,