Miriam and Aaron Speak Ill of Moses

May 31, 2015

וַתְּדַבֵּר מִרְיָם וְאַהֲרֹן בְּמֹשֶׁה עַל־אֹדוֹת הָאִשָּׁה הַכֻּשִׁית אֲשֶׁר לָקָח כִּי־אִשָּׁה כֻשִׁית לָקָח׃

Miriam and Aharon spoke against Moshe because of the Cushite woman he had married: “He married a Cushite woman!”

Numbers 12:1

וְאַחַר נָסְעוּ הָעָם מֵחֲצֵרוֹת וַיַּחֲנוּ בְּמִדְבַּר פָּארָן׃

After that the people set out from Hazeroth and encamped in the wilderness of Paran.

Numbers 12:16

An unusual incident is now related, in which Miriam and Aaron speak poorly of their brother, particularly about his choice of wife. After all, they say, doesn’t God speak to us, too?


God is displeased with the disrespect the pair are showing towards their brother, so he calls them all to the Tabernacle. He demonstrates to Miriam and Aaron that His relationship to Moses is, in fact, unique, and in His anger, strikes Miriam with tzaraat, commonly translated as leprosy. As priest, Aaron is forced to diagnose his sister’s condition.


The Israel Bible elaborates on the uniqueness of Moses’s prophecy, according to Jewish tradition. Other prophets would receive images or dreams from God, and would have to communicate them in their own words. Although the content was divine, the form was man-made. Moses, on the other hand, spoke to God “face-to-face”. Therefore, the Torah is not just divine in content, but also in form.


Aaron begs his brother’s forgiveness, asking him to intercede with God on their sister’s behalf. Moses prays for her recovery, but God says she must allow the spiritual affliction to run its course. The entire camp of Israel waits for Miriam to be purified and rejoin them before moving on to the Paran Desert.


Virtual Classroom Discussion

The text accuses both Miriam and Aaron on slandering their brother Moses, yet it appears only Miriam is punished. Why do you think that is?

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