What Are You Talking About?

What Are You Talking About?

For the week of June 22, 2024 / 16 Sivan 5784

Message info over a man wondering what's going on

Torah: B’midbar/Numbers 8:1 – 12:16
Haftarah: Zechariah 2:14 – 4:7

Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman. And they said, “Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” And the LORD heard it. (B’midbar/Numbers 12:1-2)

Do you notice anything strange about Moses’ siblings Miriam and Aaron’s confronting Moses here? Actually, we don’t know if they confronted him directly or not. All we know is that they were outspokenly critical of him. But that’s not the strange part, however. Read it over again. Do you see it yet? The passage states that the issue Miriam and Aaron had with Moses was that he married a Cushite woman. But that’s not what they said, be it to Moses directly and/or anyone else (at least not as far as the passage is concerned). According to the passage, what they said had to do with an apparently different matter. Instead of addressing the marriage issue, they made a big deal over whether or not God uniquely spoke through Moses. Now, it’s not as if Moses’ unique position in the community was not a serious matter. Right or wrong, it would be surprising if this wasn’t something that several Israelites might question from time to time. Complaints over leadership privileges wouldn’t be strange. What’s strange in the passage is that Miriam and Aaron are clearly concerned about one thing, while what they address is a completely different matter altogether. Search the entire passage (12:1-16). Nothing is ever said about Moses’ Cushite wife again.

That we are told they were critical of Moses about one thing but then addressed a completely different subject is an example of what scholars love to sink their teeth into. Some may deduce that this must be the result of two different and unrelated stories that somehow got stuck together. No wonder it makes no sense, since there are two different issues being addressed here. But wait! Perhaps this isn’t so strange. Think about it. People motivated by one concern, while saying something completely different with no reference whatsoever to their real concern. This isn’t strange; it’s normal!

How often have you been the object of someone’s anger, but you can tell (perhaps) that what they are saying isn’t what’s really bothering them? Should we also include ourselves as possible perpetrators of this phenomenon while we’re at it? Instead of the Torah clumsily and inappropriately connecting two different stories, what we have here is a brilliant example of a common human dysfunction.

There’s a good chance that the reason why Miriam and Aaron didn’t address the real issue was because they didn’t think they could do anything about it. Perhaps they thought they could get a lot more leverage by asserting their own spirituality. Yet, evading the family issue not only challenged Moses’ relationship to God but also his     essential role in the community, which in turn disrupted the community for a time, not to mention resulting in Miriam getting sick.

We don’t know what Miriam and Aaron’s problem with this was exactly. But that’s part of what is ingeniously instructive about this passage. When people aren’t willing to be honest about a concern, be it between individuals or within the broader society, it causes all sorts of unnecessary confusion and damage. Maybe Miriam and Aaron simply didn’t like the woman. The mention of her being Cushite may be a clue that they had an ethnic or racial concern. But their refusal to say so may indicate they knew it would not have gotten them anywhere. So, they had to find something else.

Note that from Moses’ and his wife’s perspectives, God took care of the situation. That should encourage us when we are the object of this sort of thing. And it’s also a warning when we are tempted to act out in this way. If we can’t be honest about our concerns, we should keep them between ourselves and God.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version

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