Black is beautiful
Was Moishe Rabaynu married to a black woman, not that there’s anything wrong with that? Was his wife black and beautiful? Ok- let’s not jump ahead and you’ll need to read this entire toirah you chazir, if you want an answer!
It’s rare that this toira column gives anyone a shout-out by name, more typically, we do it birimiza (wink of an eye) ober this past Shabbis as I was shpatzeering (walking) with the eishes chayil and other good chaverim, we ran into yet another chaver who advised that on this heylige shabbis when we lain the action packed parsha of Behaloischo with the two upside down nuns, he would be celebrating the 39th anniversary of his own bar mitzvah and I figured that this was taka shout-out worthy. So to our good chaver Alan whose company makes products that are mamish WEATHERPROOF- (available at Macy’s and other fine stores) a hearty mazel tov!
Are you really in the mood for shabbis this week? Didn’t we just complete two days of Yoim tov? Didn’t we sit down to enough meals? Isn’t your clothing mamish tight already, do we need more challah and kugil just one day later? Should the second day count for Shabbis and who needs a second day anyway? Do we not have calendars; do we not know when Roish Choidesh is? Nu-I’m just venting; perhaps we’ll cover this topic one day biarechus (in length). Is another long parsha what we need this week? Raboyseyee: as the calendar tells us, it’s kimat (nearly) summer time and even as teens, who wanted to learn the Parsha in June? Summer was just about here, school was drawing to a close and none of the myriad Yeshivas I was nebech forced to attend ever taught this Parsha. Ober (but) far vust nisht (why not)? There’s so much going on that I mamish don’t know where to start; it’s action packed.
And given that it’s Thursday night Motzey Yom Tov and given all the programming going on mamish as I write these holy words (Dallas v Miami, the Mets and more) and given the many hundred of requests I have received to be mikatzer (shorten) the toirah, and given that your are mamish still glowing with the Yoim Tov spirit, I will taka be mekatzer and only touch on two subjects. In any event, the toirah will be late this week. But I mamish implore upon you: read the heylige parsha, it’s quite fascinating to see how the BNY went from the heights of Har Senai to new lows as they complain about the Mun, the general menu in the Midbar and where, towards the end of the parsha, we find Miram and Aharoin speaking loshoin hora mamish about their brother Moishe. Ober to properly explain these incidents could take another 16 pages and given that some of you were up all night, if you chap, some even learning, I will be mikatzer on most of the Parsha’s event; in fact I’ll cut them out altogether.
For the many of us who grew up playing chumish (as opposed to learning Chumish) on shabbis afternoons, we avada recall that Parshas Behaloischo was a favorite and taka why? Because it contained the two upside down Nuns and in the game of chumish, each upside down nun was worth 500 points, assuring almost always, that the person landing on this Parsha would win the game. What’s an upside down nun and where in the Chumish will you find this? And why does the heylige toirah have upside down Nuns? What, you’ve never noticed them? Nu- you are mamish an oisvorf. These upside down Nuns, which appear to my knowledge only in this parsha, are as you can only imagine, the subject of many midroshim; what else is new.
Zicher you know that whenever we take out the sefer Toirah we recite the pesukim found in this week’s parsha ….. ויהי בנסוע הארון ויאמר משה קומה and if you look at your Chumish, you’ll taka notice that just before these words and immediately after, you’ll find 2 backwards and upside down Nuns. What’s p’shat here? Is there a reason for upside down letters other than a printer’s error?
Says Rashi who mamish understood p’shat in just about everything azoy (like this) “He made signs before it and after it to say that this is not its correct place.” In other words, these 2 pisukim, surrounded by the inverted nuns, don’t belong here in our Parsha. So why are they here? Does the RBSO make mistakes? Chas v’sholom! Rashi continues that these 2 verses were put here to separate between one trouble and another.
Exactly what that means, we’ll get to in a moment or not, and if not this year, maybe next. In fact the heylige Gemora strangely refers to these two verses as a separate book unto themselves. In other words instead of the 5 books of the toirah, there are 6. Actually, that’s not true either because one p’shat in the gemora suggests that there are mamish 7 books in total. Upside down and backward letters, a separate book, separating troubles, what’s going on here?
The heylige Gemora in Maseches Shabbos (116) discuses the message of these abnormal nuns. One explanation is that it comes to uproot these pesukim from their place and indicate that they really belong back in last week’s parsha of Nosoy where flags and marching formations were discussed in great detail. Mistama you’re wondering why the RBSO saw fit to epes place these pesukim here? Says the gemora: to separate between the two punishments. And what does that mean? Nu- if you open a chumish this shabbis and read, even in English for you oisvorfs that don’t understand the loshoin koidesh (Hebrew), you’ll find that the BNY are mamish out of control. They’re antsy and hungry for an expanded menu: they’re bored of eating Munn daily, they want watermelon and other items added, and they do lots of complaining. Ober the RBSO is not in the mood and unleashes several punishments upon them including death by fire and other zachen. Anyway, continues the gemorah: The first punishment comes right before the passuk of ויהי בנסוע . The punishment that follows the pesukim was meted out for the Yiddin’s demand for meat consumption instead of the Munn. The RBSO however, did not want back to back punishments listed and broke them up with a set of Nuns surrounding these 2 verses. Ok, you might be wondering about this p’shat since the RBSO had no issue rattling off a few dozen consecutive punishments that await us for our chazzerish behavior just a few weeks back in Parshas Bechukoisay. Taka an excellent kasha.
This week’s parsha contains the first of many unfortunate incidents we’ll be reading about in the weeks ahead as we make our way through Sefer Bamidbar where the BNY will spend the next 39 years (yes, an entire year seems to have passed already). As promised, we’ll skip ahead to the end of the parsha where we’ll find one of the most enigmatic narratives. Miriam and Aharoin said something disparaging about their brother Moishe that concerned his Kushite wife. Ok- what’s going on here? Says the heylige toirah….
“…because of the Kushite woman, whom he had married, for he had married a Kushite woman” (Ibid.). What is a Kushite woman, why is Moishe’s wife being called the Kushite woman? Poshit geredt (plain and simply speaking) – because she was black! Is that clear enough? The heylige toirah doesn’t specifically tell us what was bothering them, so let’s try to figure it out. Luckily, many others before us did the same.
According to the Rashbam, the Kushite woman was a black woman descended from Cham, remember him? Seemingly, when Moishe reigned over the land of Kush for forty years, he married the queen of Kush but never consummated the marriage. The Midrash (Chronicles) relates that Moishe pushed her away “and wedged a sword between her and himself”. This expression implies that although Moishe entered into a sacred matrimonial union with the Kushite woman, he did not engage in a physical relationship with her. I imagine that it’s taka hard to have relations with a sword wedged husband and wife, lest permanent damage occur. Married 40 years without consummating the marriage? Mistama she had the longest headache on record. Did Moishe marry a second woman and what is the significance that she might have been black?
Anyway back to the story…. Miriam and Aharoin criticized Moishe for marrying this Canaanite woman. And the Rashbam is not alone as the Eben Ezra agrees that the Kushite woman is black. He doesn’t however buy into the entire queen story and the 40 year unconsummated marriage p’shat. Which black woman would put up with 40 years of celibacy? Instead he suggests that Moishe married Tziporah as we learned way back in Parshas Shemois and that she- Tzipoira was also black. Says the Eben Ezra: though Tzipoira was from Midian rather than Kush, her skin was black from the abundant sunlight there. Shoin! So Moishe liked and married a black woman, is that so giferlich? Was this the first time that Miriam and Aharoin laid eyes on her? Why was this considered loshoin horah and what happened next?
Seemingly not but what was bothering his siblings was not that she was black but that they had suspected him (Moishe) of not servicing her properly because she was homely. Taka a yid should know that if you’re going to marry black, she should taka be a beauty; how else will you be able to explain yourself?
Ober (but) Rashi says farkert (the opposite) and associates the Kushite woman with Tzipoira on opposite grounds. Scripture calls her black to imply that all agreed as to her beauty, that she was taka a black beauty. Rashi says it’s but a metaphor and just as all agree as to the blackness of an Ethiopian, all agree that Tzipoira was a beauty. In other words, though she was, according to Rashi, black like the night- she was mamish a beauty. Ok- veyter (let’s move on).
A medrish in fact suggests that the gematria (numerical value) of ‘Kushite’ is the same as that of ‘yifas mareh’ (beautiful of appearance) using Hebrew letters of course. Another reason Rashi gives is that on account of her beauty, she was called “The Ethiopian,” meaning that just as a man calls his handsome son ‘black’ in order to thwart any potential harmful effect through an ayin horao (evil eye), so too, Tzipoira is referred to as a Kushi.
Not everyone is so happy with this Rashi as one could ask the following questions; if the Kushite woman refers to Tzipoira, it is not clear why the verse has to inform us, “for he had married a Kushite woman,” since we already know that he has married Tzipoira. Moreover, regardless of why Tzipoira was referred to as ‘The Kushite Woman’, the question still remains as to what fault Miriam and Aharoin found in the relationship between Moishe and his wife?
Anyway, the gantze mayseh (story) seems somewhat confusing and therefore we need to learn the text word by word to try to chap what went down here. In fact so confusing is this story that it’s one of the instances where the heylige toirah sort of left a few blanks for us to fill in. But taka why does the Toirah discuss this issue so cryptically? Was this the first time that a nice Jewish boy got a shtikel involved with a tinkele (dark person)? Mistama not and many others have followed suit. Without Toira she-baal peh (Oral tradition) and epes reading between the lines, there is absolutely no way we can make heads or tails of this story from a simple reading of the text. Why couldn’t the Toirah explicitly say what their complaint about Moishe was and how the RBSO defended him? Nowhere in the text does it mention anything about Moishe’s’ wife being separated from him. And if that’s what was bothering his siblings, why does the Toirah leave out the main point of the story?
And taka efsher (just maybe), it’s stories like this that should convince non believers to recognize that the Written Toirah, receipt of which we celebrated just these last two days by eating like chazerrim, was given together with toirah she-baal peh (the Oral tradition). And taka in many places, the written text makes absolutely no sense without the commentary of the Oral Tradition. Nu, let’s learn this entire little section again.
Miriam and Aharoin spoke against Moishe because of the kushite (Ethiopian) woman whom he had married; for he had married a Kushite woman. They said, Has God indeed spoken only with Moses? Hasn’t he spoken also with us? God heard it. Now the man Moses was very humble, above all the men who were on the surface of the earth. God spoke suddenly to Moses, and to Aharoin, and to Miriam, Come out you three to the tent of meeting. They three came out. God came down in a pillar of cloud, and stood at the door of the Tent, and called Aharoin and Miriam; and they both came forth. He said, Hear now my words: if there be a prophet among you, I God will make myself known to him in a vision, I will speak with him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so; he is faithful in my entire house: with him will I speak mouth to mouth, even manifestly, and not in dark speeches; and the form of God shall he see: why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant, against Moses?
Raboyseyee: what you read above is text mamish, words of the heylige toira but as you see, we epes need some more detail, without which, it mamish seems confusing. Ershtens (firstly) did Moishe take a second wife? What happened to Tzippoirah his first wife? Did he or did he not he divorce her? What is the nature of this second wife? Kush in Hebrew refers to the country of Ethiopia and a kushite is a dark-skinned person from Ethiopia. Was Moishe’s second wife a black woman? If so, why does the Toirah emphasize this?
Asks the heylige gemora rhetorically, “Was Kushite her name? We all know that Tzipoirah was her name! Rather, just as an Ethiopian (Kushite) stands out [in a crowd of light skinned people] so did Tzipporah stand out because of her [righteous] acts. According to this understanding, the pshat (literal meaning) of the term Kushite is a metaphor and is not to be taken literally. In fact, such usage of the word kush occurs elsewhere in the Toirah. Shaul Hamelech (King Saul) is called ‘black’ (kush) and King Chizkiyahu is also called ‘black’ (kushi). Additionally, Targum Onkelas (authoritative 2nd century Aramaic translation of the Toirah) translates kushite as “beautiful”, i.e., her beauty, both in form and in action, stood out. In other words: Tzipoirah was not black.
So,,,,,based on this view, Moishe taka only had one wife and Tzippoirah was her name. Again, so what’s the big deal here in the parsha? Seemingly Moishe had, however divorced her. This is the implication of the redundant part of the verse “for he had married a Kushite woman”, i.e., that taka he had originally married the beautiful Tzippoirah but now he had separated himself from her. It was for this reason that Moishe’s brother Aharoin and especially his sister Miriam were criticizing him. Who leave a beauty?
And how do we know this? Says the heylige gemora: When a prophet was in a state of prophesy the elevated state of consciousness and physical transcendence necessitated that he or she abstain from sexual intimacy with the respective spouse. In other words: sexual relations with the eishes chayil was an impediment to Nivuah (prophecy). Toirah dictates however, that when the spiritual master was not receiving prophecy then he or she was responsible to the emotional and physical needs of his wife or her husband. In other words, if you’re not a novee and not busy prophesying, there’s absolutely no reason to withhold the goodies which seemingly (according to his siblings perception) Moishe did. And how do we know or deduce this?
Rashi, citing earlier rabbinic traditions, refer to the fact that Tzipoirah, upon hearing of the introduction of two new prophets into the Jewish community, exclaimed: “Woe is to their wives, who will have to be separated from their husbands, now that they are prophets, in the same manner that Moishe separated from me.” Ok- details needed here. This is what we know: seemingly, Miriam overheard her sister-in-law Tzipoira bemoaning the fate of women who are married to prophets [she had just witnessed the previous episode of the two men, Eldad and Medad prophesying in the camp] because they endure a life of virtual celibacy while their husbands are constantly “serving the Lord”. Miriam took Moishe to task reminding him that aside from the mitzvah of peru urvu (being fruitful and multiplying) the Toirah is adamant about a man’s obligation to a woman’s conjugal needs for intimacy. As an aside, it’s mistaber (understood) that men have needs too. Miriam and Aharoin told Moishe that he cannot divorce himself from his wife forever, rather only when he was speaking with the RBSO. And they said, “Has the RBSO indeed spoken only with Moishe? Hasn’t he spoken also with us?” Meaning, both of us also receive prophecy and still find time for relations and intimacy (indicating efsher (maybe) that these are two different things)
Ober (but) the RBSO called an emergency meeting where he told them, the triumbeate of Moishe, Aharoin and Miriam that what they did not chap was the fact that Moishe was either always talking or hearing directly from the RBSO or was on standby and this is what the RBSO revealed to Miriam and Aharoin. Oh – he also struck Miriam with leprosy for the loshoin hora and seemingly, though Aharoin listened and agreed, he got a free pass. And if you’re wondering why, it’s because she Miriam opened the conversation, this is why her name is mentioned first. As the initiator, she had more responsibility for the act.
At this meeting, the RBSO also agreed with Moishe that he should separate himself from intimate contact with Tzipoirah the beautiful “black” woman.
So what do we have here? Seemingly what we have here is conflicting rabbinical traditions (“chalukai midrashim”). One source is explicit that Kushite is simply an appellation for Tzipoirah and the other source is explicit that Kushite is another woman. Rabbis arguing with each other and different conflicting opinions, what else is new? Both views cannot be true, can they? Which explanation is historically correct? Was she another woman or wasn’t she? It’s not back and white, or is it? Ver veyst (who knows)?
Might we conclude that if you’re epes not in the mood for your eishes chayil or she you, that a logical excuse might be that you’re about to prophesize?
A gitten shabbis-