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Parshat Chukat: The Deaths of Miriam and Aaron

 

By Rabbi David Hartley Mark

 

“And the Israelites arrived in the Wilderness of Zin…and Miriam died there and was buried in Kadesh (The Place of Holiness). The sun was hot; the desert was dry. The People were thirsty and complaining. God commanded Moses, ‘Speak to the rock; it will split apart and produce water. I, the Lord God, am making for you a miracle, Son of Amram!’ Instead, exhausted from the demands of the Israelites, upset for the loss of his sister Miriam, and suffering from a splitting headache, Moses struck the rock, saying, ‘Hear now, ye Rebels: am I to bring you forth water out of this rock?’…And the LORD spoke to Moses on Mt. Hor, saying, ‘Aaron shall die here; he shall not enter into the Land of Israel, for he and you rebelled against Me by striking the rock rather than speaking to it.”

--Numbers  20: 1, 24 (adapted)

 

            The Desert of Sinai was a hellish cauldron at noon. Most Israelites huddled in their tents,  moving about as little as possible. The heat made it impossible to nap. Hardier souls would stoically sit in the sun, hoping for a breeze.

 Zipporah, the aged wife of Moses, liked the heat. She was desert-born and bred, the daughter of Jethro, late High Priest of Midian. Over the years, her beautiful black skin had become all the lovelier for exposing it to the sun. During and after he sun-bath, she was careful to cream herself with olive oil and herbs of her own devising.

            The day before, Elazar, her younger son, had returned home with his Moabite wife Tiamat and their two girl-babies. Zipporah, while joyful for their company, sometimes felt the need to escape the endless demands of the toddlers, whom Elazar and Tiamat had named Perachya (“Flower of God”) and Eynan (“Beautiful Eyes”). As she  in the lay in the sun, Zipporah heard her daughter-in-law in the tent, coaxing the babies into napping. Usually, Zipporah would have helped Tiamat by distracting the little ones with a story, but her heart was heavy this noon, and a single tear slowly trickled down her cheek.

            Miriam was dead.

Oh, my sister Miriam, my love, how could you go away and not take me? Zipporah’s heart cried out, As you journey toward Sheol, the Place of Eternal Silence, do you not need a companion, my sister, my bride?

Miriam had befriended Zipporah many years before, just after Moses had forced her to return to Egypt, a land she had never known. He had come home with a strange light in his eyes, babbling about “A bush that burned but was not consumed,” and declaring their marriage over.

“I pledge to follow God, only God, who will be my entire family now.” Moses screamed in the street, as the sun was setting. He then stomped off into the night, out into the desert, eager to drink of more Divine prophecy, leaving his wife stunned and his baby sons wailing.

Zipporah had cried herself to sleep, that night and every night following. She had reason to lament. After returning from his desert communings with his God, her headstrong husband had forced her to pack and leave her family, her parents and sisters, in Midian. Uncaring of her comfort, he had installed her and their two little boys, Gershom and Elazar, into a hovel on the outskirts of Heliopolis, the Egyptian capital. Following the instructions of his new-found God, Moses felt he needed to be close to the palace, where he would wear out Pharaoh Ramesses II with Divine demands. His abandonment of Zipporah and their two little boys left her in shock at his sudden desertion.

“How can you do this to me? What about your marriage-promises to my father, Jethro?” she had cried to him.

“Enough, Woman!” called Moses behind him as he rushed out the door, “I must warn the Pharaoh of the evils to come. Let my people go!” He left her weeping.

Sitting in the mold and dust of their new “home,” Zipporah did not know what to do. Her mad husband, provider and protector of the family, had deserted her. Her tears fell into the dust on the floor of her new home. She had become an agunah, a deserted wife, but chained to a recalcitrant husband. She sat on the floor, stunned, holding her knees and rocking back-and-forth.

A few minutes later, there was a gentle tap on the door. Miriam had come to her sister-in-law. After they hugged and cried together, Zipporah poured out her heart and found Miriam a willing listener.

“What shall I do, Sister? It’s just me and our—my—sons. Shall I stay or return home to Midian?” Zipporah asked Miriam, gazing into her dark brown eyes.

Miriam gazed off—beyond the walls of the hut and into the distant future. She, too, was a prophet.

“You and the babies will come live with me,” she said, “I have no husband or family. You will be my family.”

The two set up a home together, raising the boys to manhood. Miriam had never married—like her brother Moses, she was married to God. Zipporah loved it on the long desert nights, when they took a blanket and lay beneath the stars.

“I shall make you like the stars of the sky,” Miriam would whisper into Zipporah’s ear.

“And like the sands of the sea, which cannot be counted,” Zipporah would reply. The two would be enfolded in each other’s arms....

“Dear Little Sister Zipi,” Miriam would whisper, kissing her deeply, “I will never leave you alone.”

Moses had run away from Zipporah, and she had never been able to establish a relationship with Aaron, his elder brother. Despite his reputation for being a “lover of peace and a pursuer of peace,” the kohen-priest never had any time for his own family, let alone extended family. Zipporah suspected that he was jealous of her two fine, strapping boys; he had lost Nadav and Avihu by Divine stroke when they were very young. Aaron and his wife Tsilya had had Elazar and Itamar, who replaced their late brothers at the altar, albeit unwillingly. When they were growing up, the young boys regarded Aaron as more like a grandfather than a father. Aaron never played with his sons; like Moses, he never lost a minute he could spend serving God in the Mishkan-Sanctuary.

When Nadav and Avihu were destroyed by Godly action, it was Miriam and Zipporah’s sad duty to comfort Aaron’s wife, Tsilyah, over her double loss. Aaron was unable to do so; he was numb with grief. God’s sudden murder of his boys aged him overnight. He became estranged from Tsilya, and mourned his boys for months and years.

But now, both Miriam and Aaron were dead. Zipporah would sometimes gaze upon her estranged husband, Moses, from a distance; she had lost any love they ever had borne for one another. She had had Miriam, whose hugs and caresses had never failed to comfort her, but now, Miriam was gone.

As she gazed upon her ex-husband, Zipporah said in her heart: Mark my words, Moses: as God abandoned Miriam and sloughed off His holy priest, Aaron, so will He do to you.

Zipporah leaned back against the black goatskin tent and sighed deeply. She was content to watch Moses and wait.

A child’s voice came from her tent: Savta, Grandma Zipi! I need you!

She smiled, rose, and entered the tent. Her granddaughters needed her.

MEET OUR CLERGY

OUR RABBI - David Hartley Mark

WATCH RABBI MARK , To Life, L'Chaim #217 - Rabbi David Mark (You Tube)

Rabbi David Hartley Mark

Rabbi David Hartley Mark was born in New York City, and grew up on the Lower East Side, that legendary Jewish immigrant neighborhood, attending Hebrew Day School. He was first from his school, the East Side Torah Center, to attend Yeshiva University High School for Boys—Manhattan. David attended Yeshiva University, where he attained a BA in English Literature, a BS in Bible and Jewish Education, and a Hebrew Teacher’s Diploma (HTD). He spent his third year of college at Bar Ilan University in Ramat-Gan, Israel, where he developed a fluency in Hebrew, and toured around the country. He has also attained a Certificate in Advanced Jewish School Administration from the Hebrew College in Brookline, MA.

David attended the City University of New York Graduate Center, where he earned an MA degree from Queens College, as well as an M.Phil. degree, majoring in 17th Century English, specializing in the work of John Milton, as well as the Romantic Poets. A year teaching Hebrew School in a Reform temple in Brooklyn convinced him of his great love of Judaism, and he began attending the Academy for Jewish Religion, Yonkers, NY, where he was ordained a rabbi in 1980.

 

He met Anbeth, who was hired as temple secretary the same day he was hired to teach. They were married in 1978. They have two grown children, Tyler and Jordan, as well as a grandson, Aidan.

 

Rabbi Mark served pulpits in Warren, NJ, Fayetteville, NC, and Portsmouth, NH, in which last pulpit he spent 22 years, a record for that state. Seeking warmer climes, as well as closer family members, he and Anbeth took the pulpit of Temple Sholom in 2009. He also fulfilled a lifetime dream of teaching English at Keiser University in Ft. Lauderdale.  

 

OUR CANTOR - Javier Smolarz

Cantor Javier Smolarz

Cantor Smolarz comes to us originally from Argentina and via Congregations in various U.S. localities, joining Temple Sholom in September of 2018, where he has been wholeheartedly embraced by the Congregation.  His strong beautiful singing voice is coupled with a great sense of presence and decorum, but with a warm welcoming demeanor - all of which enhances our morning minyans and shabbat and holiday services.

 

 

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