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Miriam’s leprosy

05/24/2010

The week’s awkward offering, The Loudest Self, is both a strongly worded op-ed piece & elegy of sorts about the last verses in the Torah portion Beha’alotkha:

Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman he had married: “He married a Cushite woman!” They said, “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?” The Lord heard it… Suddenly the Lord called to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, “Come out, you three, to the Tent of Meeting.” So the three of them went out.  The Lord came down in a pillar of cloud, stopped at the entrance of the Tent, and called out, “Aaron and Miriam!” The two of them came forward; and God said, “Hear these My words: When a prophet of the Lord arises among you, I make Myself known to him in a vision, I speak with him in a dream. Not so with My servant Moses; he is trusted throughout My household. With him I speak mouth to mouth, plainly and not in riddles, and he beholds the likeness of the Lord. How then did you not shrink from speaking against My servant Moses!” Still incensed with them, the Lord departed. As the cloud withdrew from the Tent, there was Miriam stricken with snow-white scales! When Aaron turned toward Miriam, he saw that she was stricken with scales.

Long story short: Aaron freaks out. Moses prays for his sister and asks God to heal her. God reiterates the divine right to act capriciously and without mercy (invoking the right of earthly fathers to spit in their daughters’ faces, how nice). The people don’t move an inch until Miriam’s week outside the camp is completed. On to the next story.

You can imagine how this whole thing might annoy me. Only the woman is punished? Totally unfair, and a fabulous ruse for latter rabbis and other so-called pillars of the community (all men) to opine that women are gossips one should avoid whenever possible. And though some commentators have asserted that Miriam & Aaron were complaining that Moses was ignoring his wife in favor of God (a reasonable criticism) , personally, I think the whole Cushite woman business was inserted after the fact as a way to further point the finger at the kind of “gossip” that women supposedly traffic in: personal trashing.

Okay, women talk. But, let’s be honest. So do men. Let’s just leave it at that.

My answer to all this: sometimes the truth must be said. Sometimes people recognize it as the truth, however painful, and stand up proudly next to the prophet or other loud mouth. Would we rather that truth not be said? Yes, truth is risky. But friends, it is also precious. I’m willing to listen to all the commentaries out there about how Miriam deserved it – but I’ll likely not be swayed. Just FYI.

One other tidbit about the poem. It was written in honor of Andrea Dworkin, whose words radicalized me when I was in my 20s and 30s. I ultimately disagreed with her anti-pornography stand, but I always was in awe of her ability to say what needed to be said, damn the consequences. She died in 2005.

P.S. Here’s an alternative take on the sotah/woman accused from last week’s post, from the Israeli daily paper Ha’aretz.

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