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Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses, about the Cushite woman he had married. For indeed he had married a Cushite woman (12:1).
Moses was the most humble of all people (12:3).
These words introduce the story of where Miriam, Moses' sister was punished with tzaraat - a Divinely imposed skin condition, for 'speaking against Moses'.
Unlike Rashi, Targum Yonatan translates the verse literally as referring to Moses having actually married a Cushite (Ethiopian) woman much earlier in his life, when he served Pharaoh as a military leader against the threatening Ethiopian forces on the southern border of Egypt. Ibn Ezra (to 12:1) refers to this in a rather mysterious passage, where he writes:
'As it is written in the (Book of) Chronicles (Divrei HaYamim). Moses ruled over the land of Cush (Ethiopia) for forty years. He took one princess as a wife, but did not consummate marital relations with her. They (Moses and Aaron) did not know that he had never been intimate with her'.
The gossip was about Moses having married out his culture and faith, which indeed was true. Indeed, Moses' early-life campaign in Ethiopia is described (with conflicting detail) in an extra-Biblical source, namely Josephus' Antiquities:
'While Moses was uneasy at the (Egyptian) army's lying idle, (for the enemies dared not come to a battle) this accident happened. Tharbis was the daughter of the king of the Ethiopians. She happened to see Moses as he led the army near the walls, and fought with great courage. Admiring the subtlety of his undertakings, and believing him to be the author of the Egyptians' success… she fell deeply in love with him, and because of that passion, sent to him the most faithful of all her servants to talk to him about marriage. He thereupon accepted the offer, on condition that she would effect the delivering up of the city. He gave her the assurance of an oath to marry her…. When Moses cut off the Ethiopians, he gave thanks to G-d, consummated his marriage, and led the Egyptians back to their own land' (Josephus: Antiquities II 10:2).
Despite the conflicts in the passages, they concur in implying that Zipporah was not Moses' first wife, and that his earlier marriage was within his high-level services as a military commander of Pharaoh's army on the southern Egyptian borderlands.
However, the gossip was out of context. They spoke of Moses' marriage of a woman "of improper race". The word "Cushite" was used in a derogatory sense. Even though what had happened was true: the Torah states that Moses had indeed married a Cushite woman.
But Moses' humility was his strength. Being humble does not mean being a weak and self-effacing. It means knowing when to be quiet. There is strength in silence. That is humility.
That is indeed what Moses had shown on this occasion. He did not put forward his status and put the record right: that it was a natural and normal event in being a military commander in Pharaoh's army. He did not justify his behaviour. For Moses realized that "what is already crooked cannot be put straight" (Eccl. 1:15). Trying to justify himself would have only made what was crooked even more crooked.
He was strong enough to know when to intervene and when not to intervene. And he did not intervene on this occasion. Let G-d sort it out! That was Moses' humility.
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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