Intermountain Jewish News

Banner
Monday,
May 30th
Home Columns View from Denver The personality of Miriam

The personality of Miriam

E-mail Print PDF
Article Index
The personality of Miriam
Page 2 of 2
All Pages

JUST when you thought that a burst of creativity in Biblical exegesis became the final word in the field, a subterranean paradigm shift unfolds. With its development the earlier creativity is seen as encased within a certain methodology, such that the new burst in creativity is not a departure from, or a quarrel with, the earlier mode. It is simply something new.

Given that the Hebrew Bible is the eternal book, its layers of meaning accumulate not just one layer upon the other. Not just another take on a verse or a passage; not just another read on an ambiguous or amphibolous Hebrew word or phrase; not just another angle of vision on a Biblical theme. Rather, an entirely new field is discovered within the Biblical text.

We are living through just such a burst of creativity, just such a birth of a new paradigm in Biblical exegesis.

I would classify this paradigm as “personality.” What is sought here is an entire Biblical life — a biography, so to speak. Biblical passages, commentaries and midrashim are plumbed for their bits of information on Biblical personalties, whereupon these bits of information are woven into a picture, a complete reading of a Biblical personage.

This does not replace the individual readings of verses and passages, nor the prismatic approach to layers of meaning inherent in Biblical syntax and grammar. Rather, it is simply something new.

The new exegetical method is to yield “Miriam,” “Moses,” “Joseph,” “Abraham” (and so on). More than half a century ago — in a BMH Hebrew School classroom — the late Rabbi Ernest Gray, when asked about who Moses was, responded, “It would take another Shakespeare to draw a portrait of Moses.” I am not sure that the new Biblical exegetes will achieve the place of Shakespeare, but some very sophisticated portraits of Biblical personalities are emerging.

To achieve a complete portrait, a person needs to spend years working on it. The popularity of the new methodology is verified not just by full length works. Attempts to construct partial portraits of Biblical personalities also proliferate.

One such attempt is that of Rabbi Elchanan Adler. Writing in Mitokh Ha-Ohel (Maggid, 2010), he asked this question: Can we link an early and a later incident in the life of Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron? Can we see the later incident as reflecting something of an indelible personality trait in Miriam, manifested early in her life?

This is the type of question that animates the current paradigm in Biblical exegesis. Here is its application by Adler to Miriam.

THE end of this week’s Torah portion has a striking incident. Two siblings, Aaron and Miriam, speak against Moses, whereupon Miriam is punished with a terrible skin disease — like snow. Aaron pleads Miriam’s case.

“Aaron said to Moses: ‘I beg you, my lord, do not cast a sin upon us [Miriam and me], for we have been foolish and we have sinned. Let not her [Miriam] be like a corpse, like one who leaves his mother’s womb with half his flesh having been consumed!’” (12:11-12).

Now, Miriam was one of the all time righteous women. It is said that in Miriam’s merit the entire nation of Israel was hydrated during the its 40-year trek in the desert via a miraculous, moving well that accompanied the Israelites on their travels. How is it possible that Miriam spoke against Moses?

Rather than identifying a moralistic point in the Bible that even someone so great as Miriam is not perfect, or an ethical point that the sin of slander is severe, Elchanan Adler seeks a biographical answer. He explores the personality of Miriam. As I summarize his ideas I often use his words.

Miriam and Aaron had spoken against Moses regarding his wife, the Cushite woman, Zipporah. Rashi takes this to mean that Miriam criticized Moses for separating from Zipporah, from not having a normal family life. Moses had done this in order to remain “on call” for prophecy at all times. Miriam reasoned: I too am a prophet, but I have not separated from my husband. Why should Moses presume to be different?

In effect, Miriam was devaluating Moses’ unique status as a prophet. Only his prophecies came via a “clear lens,” unlike the “clouded lens” accessible to all other prophets.

ADLER sees the impact of Miriam’s early personal history on her mature critique of Moses. Ironically, her early history was more than praiseworthy — it became the instrument of the ultimate redemption of the Israelite slaves from Egypt.

When Pharaoh decreed that all new Jewish males be tossed into the Nile and drowned, Miriam’s father Amram reacted by divorcing his wife Yocheved. He reasoned: If my child is to be forcibly drowned, why give birth to him to start with? Many in the Israelite community followed suit.

Miriam, however, saw it differently. She chastised her father. She said: Your act of divorce is worse than Pharaoh’s. He has decreed the death of newborn Jewish males. You prevent the birth of both males and females.

Hearing this, Amram reversed his decision and remarried his wife Yocheved. Clearly, Miriam, had a powerful instinct for the profound importance of Jewish family life. To Miriam, even extraordinary circumstances did not justify breaking up the family unit.



Last Updated ( Friday, 06 June 2014 01:46 )  

IJN e-Edition

This is only a taste! Get full access to the IJN via our e-Edition, only $14.04 for IJN Print subscribers.

E-Edition subscribers get access to a complete digital replica of the IJN, which includes all special sections.

Get the IJN's free newsletter!

Shabbat Times

JTA News

75th anniversary of Baghdad pogrom to be commemorated in 4 cities

Ron Kampeas WASHINGTON (JTA) — The author of a work on the Nazi-era massacre in Baghdad believed to have precipitated the Jewish exodus from Iraq is commemorating its 75th anniversary with candle lightings ... [Link]

Historic Jewish wedding in Turkey triggers hate speech online

Cnaan Liphshiz (JTA) — A historic wedding in Turkey triggered a deluge of anti-Semitic speech online, a leader of the country’s Jewish community said. Ishak Ibrahimzadeh, president of the Jewish Community... [Link]

Ohio Israeli eatery to close following February machete attack

Cnaan Liphshiz (JTA) — An Israeli restaurant owner from Ohio whose eatery was targeted by a knife-wielding assailant said the incident has caused him losses requiring him to declare bankruptcy. Hany Baransi, t... [Link]

Holocaust monuments vandalized in Poland, Italy

Cnaan Liphshiz (JTA) — Newly erected Holocaust monuments in Poland and Italy were vandalized. In Poland, a monument in Raigrod, 130 miles northeast of Warsaw, was hit last week for the second time since its un... [Link]

Bernie Sanders: Israel has a right to US protection

Cnaan Liphshiz (JTA) — Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said Israel has a right to be protected by the United States. Sanders, who has spoken out in favor of Palestinian interests as well as I... [Link]

Israeli Cabinet OKs appointment of Avigdor Liberman as defense minister

Cnaan Liphshiz (JTA) — The Israeli Cabinet unanimously approved the appointment of Avigdor Liberman as defense minister on Monday, formalizing a coalition deal between his Yisrael Beiteinu party and Prime Mini... [Link]

NJ man who firebombed rabbi’s home convicted of terrorism

Cnaan Liphshiz (JTA) — A 24-year-old New Jersey man was found guilty of terrorism for vandalizing Jewish temples and firebombing a rabbi’s residence four years ago. Anthony Graziano of Lodi was convicted on ... [Link]

Donald Trump: Debating trailing Bernie Sanders would be ‘inappropriate’

Cnaan Liphshiz (JTA) — Donald Trump said he would not debate Bernie Sanders because it would be “inappropriate” in light of Sanders trailing Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary fight. Trump, ... [Link]

Intermountain Jewish News • 1177 Grant Street • Denver, CO 80203 • 303 861 2234 • FAX 303 832 6942
email@ijn.com • larry@ijn.com • lori@ijn.com