Miriam and Aaron Speak Ill of Moses

Numbers 12:1-16

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?

Comments ( 6 )

The comments below do not necessarily reflect the beliefs and opinions of The Israel Bible™.

  • Peter Nooy

    Numeri 12:10 ¶ And the cloud departed from off the tabernacle; and, behold, Miriam became leprous, white as snow: and Aaron looked on Miriam, and, behold, she was leprous.
    11 And Aaron said to Moses, Alas, my lord, I beseech you, lay not the sin on us, wherein we have done foolishly, and wherein we have sinned.
    12 Let her not be as one dead, of whom the flesh is half consumed when he comes out of his mother’s womb.
    13 And Moses cried to the LORD, saying, Heal her now, O God, I beseech you.
    14 And the LORD said to Moses, If her father had but spit in her face, should she not be ashamed seven days? let her be shut out from the camp seven days, and after that let her be received in again.

    Deuteronomy 25:9 Then shall his brother’s wife come to him in the presence of the elders, and loose his shoe from off his foot, and spit in his face, and shall answer and say, So shall it be done to that man that will not build up his brother’s house.

    (Durch language)
    In vers 14 vergelijkt de Here God Mirjam met iemand die door haar vader in het gezicht is gespuwd.
    Dat in het gezicht spuwen is een daad van verachting, zeer negatief. Iemand die in het gezicht is gespuwd wordt beschouwd als een verachtelijk persoon.
    Zij heeft het huis van haar broeder Mozes niet gebouwd zoals aangegeven in Deuteronomium 25:9
    En zo iemand is als een melaatse en moet zeven dagen buiten de stad of dorp of legerplaats verblijven. Dus iemand die onrein is.
    Het lijkt er op door de vergelijking die God trekt wat betreft het in het gelaat spuwen van Mirjam dat God hiermee zichzelf ziet als een vader die zijn dochter zwaar bestraft.
    Dat doet God door haar melaats te maken en zodat ze zeven dagen buiten moet blijven. En pas daarna mag komen in de legerplaats.
    De vraag is onder andere of de mensen van Mozes weten waarom Mirjam opeens melaats is geworden ? Want de mensen kunnen pas verder trekken na die zeven dagen.
    Peter de Nooy

  • I think that Miiam was instigating this round of slander. A woman likely is almost first delivering critisism on women. So the critics were directed to Moshe's wife. and later on to Moshe as the one responsible. This story is in the Book right after the previous one. So it might have something in the same line. It started with seeing to her then trying to attract others (though almost on a familiar basis) but …still G-d displeasing words. The best witness you could have is the highest in command after Moshe: the Kohen Gadol. In his brotherly love he was an easy victim. Just as the fire (in the previous punishment) was on the edge of the camp so now the initiatress was touched. Shocking for Aaron reminding him to be careful in his position, even to his own "flesh" and blood.

  • I certainly agree with Sheila and Ken, my thoughts exactly. This was a question I had for years, why the woman and not the man. Then I realized it was not just the woman and man but Moses sister who was responsible for his rescue as a babe, watching as Moses floated into the water, watching where he ended, telling of the wet nurse who was Moses mother. Miriam truly played a major part in her brothers life. To turn against him when as a child she knew how the Lord worked such miracles in her brother being chosen as leader, she knew better.
    On the flip side Aaron as a chosen High priest could not serve with blemishes, he too know better;however having to proclaim his sister affliction and knowing he was also responsible was worst in suffering.
    What a lesson for us today. HaShem chooses our leaders and supplies them with the tools to lead, gossip of one chosen by HaShem is far worst then idol gossip. Although all gossip and jealously are carnal and we should pray not to be infected with either sickness.

  • Sheila

    Aaron was the one who repented quickly for them both. It shows his heart of intercession and mercy.

  • Ken

    According to Leviticus 21, to be a [high] priest and offer sacrifices and service, one MUST have NO blemish. If God had afflicted Aaron with leprosy, he would be unclean and possibly lose his position of the priesthood.
    This AGAIN shows God mercy to Aaron (recall the golden calf incident).

  • Diana Brown

    Miriam was the speaker of lashon hara and Aaron was the hearer/listener. The one slandered…Zipporah’s husband, Moses was the one the slander was leveled against. Torah says our words have the power of life or death in them. We must allow our speech to be life-giving, not character-destroying for we all pay for evil talk one way or another.
    I know talmudic teaching allows for Miriam to have felt sorry for Zipporah was being neglected by Moses to attend to the camp of Bnei Yisrael. Perhaps Miriam and Zipporah did talk about how much time Moses was out and about in the camp and in the Tent of Meeting. Regardless of how the talk began or why it festered into this conversation, it would appear HaShem was not pleased with it.
    Prior to this, seventy elders were called up to share the burden so perhaps Miriam thought she and Aaron should have been selected instead of the 70 elders. The Torah seems to say our reasoning is to fall in line with HaShem’s reasoning so we really should spend more time obeying what He tells us to do (whether we understand it all or like it all).

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