Torah for the Times

Friday, June 8, 2012 - 18 Sivan, 5772

Torah Reading:Beha’alotcha (Numbers 8:1 - 12:16)
Candle Lighting Time: 8:08 PM
Shabbat ends: 9:17 PM


One of the Torah’s most enigmatic narratives can be found at the end of this week's parsha of Beha'alotecha. Miriam and Aaron said something disparaging about their brother Moses that concerned his "Kushite wife." They added the fact that G‑d had spoken to them as well. G‑d then defends Moses as one who possessed a unique quality of prophecy and humility.

What was this all about? Rashi, citing earlier rabbinic traditions, refer to the fact that Moses' wife Tziporah (who was in fact not a Kushite but a Midianite) upon hearing of the introduction of two new prophets into the Jewish community, exclaimed: "Woe is to their wives, who will have to be separated from their husbands, now that they are prophets, in the same manner that Moses separated from me."

When Miriam heard-for the first time-that Moses had separated from his wife, presumably because he was a prophet, she was indignant. Why would Moses have to separate from his wife? After all, Miriam and Aaron were also prophets, yet it never occurred to them that they could not live normal married lives. Thus, Miriam concluded, Moses must think of himself as being superior to his brother and sister. This, Miriam and Aaron thought was presumptuous on Moses' part.

G‑d's response was that: (a) Moses, in fact, was the most humble person on the face of the earth, and he certainly did not leave his wife because he thought he was superior to anyone else. (b) Moses was indeed commanded by G‑d, after Sinai-when he was 80 years old-to separate from his wife, because he had to be "on call" with G‑d twenty-four hours a day. Unlike other prophets who received their prophecies at designated times-so they could "have time" for both their spouses as well as for G‑d-Moses had to be prepared to receive a prophetic message at all times.

But why, we may ask does the Torah discuss this issue so cryptically? Without the Oral tradition's "reading between the lines," there is absolutely no way we can make heads or tails of this story from a simple reading of the text. Why couldn't the Torah explicitly say what their complaint about Moses was and how G‑d defended him? Nowhere in the text does it mention anything about Moses' wife being separated from him. And if that is what their quarrel with Moses was based on, why does the Torah leave out the main point of the story?

To be sure, this and other similar cryptic Biblical texts are examples that compel us to recognize that the Written Torah was given together with an Oral tradition. And in many places, the written text makes absolutely no sense without the commentary of the Oral Tradition. And as such, the enigmatic story highlights the inseparable nature of the Written and Oral traditions.

But a question still remains. Granted the Torah deliberately leaves out crucial details from this and many other sections of the Torah so that we are compelled to consult and delve into the Oral interpretations. However, everything related to G‑d's Torah is precise. Why is this salient fact that Moses was celibate (after 40 years of marriage) omitted from the narrative? What lesson can we derive from this lacuna?

One simple answer is that the Torah did not want us to look at celibacy as an ideal. If we were exposed to the notion that Moses separated form his wife because of his role as a prophet, some might have taken this as a sign that the ideal lifestyle would be one of celibacy and that marriage is merely a necessary evil, as some religious philosophies believe.

To discredit this notion, the Torah omits referring to Moses' separation explicitly, as if to say, Moses' situation was not intended to be paradigmatic. On the contrary, Moses' behavior was the sole exception to the general rule. And if we want to learn something about and from Moses, it should not be his celibacy, but his humility and closeness to G‑d. If we want to aspire to attaining greater heights, we should not even consider a life of celibacy.

The reason Judaism does not regard celibacy as an ideal is twofold:

First, the objective of the Torah is not to negate the physical world and its natural forces, but to elevate them by harnessing them for the good and G‑dly. Marriage is the most powerful institution, and making it holy, not shunning it, is the ideal.

Second, the institution of marriage exists in our physical realm because it exists primarily in the spiritual realm. Indeed, the entire Sinai experience has been likened by our Sages to a wedding; a wedding between God and the Jewish people. When we wed, in accordance with G‑d's laws, we thus emulate G‑d and introduce G‑dly energy into this world.

Thus, in the ultimate Messianic Age, marriage will remain the most holy of institutions. Moreover, if Sinai was the beginning of the marriage between G‑d and Israel, then the ultimate age of Redemption has been likened to the consummation of the marriage. Precisely in the future, when we will be at our peak of spiritual achievement, marriage will be around and placed on a pedestal.

Moshiach Matters

An essential component in bringing about the final Redemption is Simchah, joy. It is noteworthy that the root letters of simchah are Shin, Mem and Ches - the very same letters that make up the root of the word Moshiach. (The Rebbe, Hisvaduyos, 5748, pg. 627)(Sefer Ma'amarim Melukat of the Lubavitcher Rebbe)
Moshiach - It’s a Jewish issue. For more info, visit