It isn’t as though this is the first time the people bug Moses, bellyaching about the good life they had lived back in Downtown Egypt, where “We ate meat every day, where we got Nofrakepthph’s Birthday off and the stores were open until Ten P.M.” The cloud accompanies them by day and the pillar of fire by night, but God i far away when a person is hot and tired and not sure of the future. So, Moses gets it again, and this time, he has had enough, and mouths off to God: “Why have you laid the burden of these people on me? Where will I get meat for all these people?” I couldn’t help thinking of my hero, Sugihara Chiune, or Raol Wallenburg, leading, guiding people traumatized and frightened, out of another Mitzraim.
Not, Moses doesn’t say MY people. God then tells Moses to delegate some of the harder duties to a group of elders, which he does, and then God sends a flock of quail for the people to eat. They stuff themselves so ravenously that many sicken and die. Then, things ge tough.
Notice that throughout the entire book of Genesis, brothers are always at war, in conflicts of personality and precedence. Cain kills Abel, Joseph lords it over and then is all but killed by his brothers, Esev ups to Jacob, Zerah and Pharex are rivals, Isaac and Ishmael are barely speaking until Sarah’s funeral and then they split up again. In these rivalries things go wrong, people are wounded, men of blood arise. The Exodus story changes all this. For the first time in the biblical story, Brothers and sister are unified, above envy and rancor and in that form they are invincible. Had they not been armed with each another, the miracles could not have taken place. And then…
And then, Moses takes a wife from the land of Cush. Cush has been identified as Numibia or Ethiopia. In any case the woman is black, and Miriam loses her cool. She doesn’t go to to Moses. Both she and Aaron talked about it, but Miriam talked it around the camp, free with her disapproval. Miriam and Aaron have little the first log on what will result, one chapter from now, in a rebellion, and two chapters from now, in Moses losing his own temper and striking a rock for water, incurring God’s wrath and loosing God’s anger. The invincible troika has been smashed.
God now plays a sight-gag on Miriam. She doesn’t like black? Try white. She comes down with a skin condition that turns her skin a dead white, and scaly, with something that looks contagious. She must be exiled from the camp. It’s notable that the whole camp stops the journey rather than pulling her along in a cart, or humiliating her in some other way. The pause lasts seven days. This is a way of showing how much power Miriam has and how people trust the troika she, Moses and Aaron have mad.
Derek will wing of Miriam’s redemption and re-admission, the forgiveness of people who show a lack of faith, but can’t help it and who try to make up for it by honoring a leader. Miriam couldn’t have a better advocate than one of our Evergreen boys, white and scaly or not.
In this parsha, the young soldier, Joshua, is seen for the first time, introduced as the leader who will take Moses’ place, but as a war-leader, not a law-giver. We see him casually, introduced giving a request to Moses. The Haftarah underlines his importance, telling us that we’ll meet him later, maturing as a hero in the next parsha and later on as a general, Moses’ heir.
Leaders- -when we needed them, they emerged. So may it be with us.