Aaron and Miriam have been called before the Lord at the Ohel Moed because they were gossiping and talking about their brother Moses. Temporarily, they forgot their place, which is the opposite of humility. Moses had a higher kedusha that Aaron or Miriam, so how could they speak against him? So, the anger of the Lord burned against them. Aaron turned towards Miriam and she was leprous (zara’at) and she became a metzora (leper). This meant death if in the wilderness because you had to be put out of the camp and into a real wilderness. Paul alludes to this concept in 1 Cor 5.5 when he tells the Corinthians to “deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Yeshua.” These are idiomatic terms meaning the Corinthians are to expel the offender from the congregation, or “out of the camp” of believers. The domain of Satan is the wilderness, and outside of fellowship with believers was seen as being “in the wilderness” (the world), so they are driving the person out of their presence, or “out of the camp.”
Aaron and Miriam tried to put “verbal leprosy” on Moses and his wife, and they tried to make them feel “unclean.” That’s what we do when we gossip about others. God’s judgments are fair, appropriate and in measure to what we have done. But, the question has been asked, “Why was Miriam afflicted with zara’at and not Aaron?” That is a good question. Aaron was High Priest and may not have been as deep into this sin as Miriam was. He would pronounce her unclean as a priest. He also had a higher kedusha than Miriam as high priest, and had to serve before the Lord in the Mishkan. Aaron repented and interceded for her (v 11-12).
Then the Lord says in v 14, “If her father had spit in her face (to show disgust) would she not bear her shame for seven days (hide herself, not appear with the family)? Let her be shut up for seven days (Lev 13.5) outside the camp, and afterward, she may be received again.” She was healed from the leprosy right away, but she had to remain outside the camp for seven days and follow the protocol for the cleansing of a leper.
We learn from v 15 that the people did not move again until she was restored, and we know she waited for Moses in Exo 2.4 to make sure she was safe, so Moses wasn’t going to leave her. We know from Mic 6.4 God says, “Indeed I brought you up from the land of Egypt and ransomed you from the house of slavery, and I sent before you Moses, Aaron and Miriam.” We see in this verse that God sent Moses, Aaron and Miriam as Shaliachim, as the agents of God, to the people of Israel. She spoke the very words of God to the people. She was also considered a prophetess (Exo 15.20). In addition, she was considered a “tzaddik” or a righteous one, but that term goes deeper than that. The word comes from the word “tzedek” which means to do what is right and correct.
The earthly tzaddik may of course be male or female. One of the more significant righteous women in the Bible is Miriam and she acted as a mediator between the people and her two brothers who, especially Moses, was very close to the Lord and involved in his instruction. Two related episodes confirm her role. One involved the time she spoke against Moses and received the punishment of zara’at, as we have seen in our passages. When a person is stricken with zara’at they had to stay away from the camp for at least seven days. Normally, this person would follow the main group of people as they continued their journey. In the case of Miriam, the people did not move at all until she was brought back into the camp because the cloud did not move.
Among the reasons already given, if we examine the verses closely, we will see that it may have been out of necessity, due to her role as tzaddik. A tzaddik brings forth the flow of blessings from the Lord to the people below. We already know she was sent to the people as a shaliach. We know that the blessings that followed the children of Israel were directly linked to a mysterious rock/well that followed them in their journey. 1 Cor 10.4 says, “and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Messiah.”
There is another concept associated with the tzaddik and it is called “The Suffering of the Tzaddik.” We will quote from the book “Ezekiel” from the Artscroll Tanak series. We will go over this again when we get to “Concepts in Ezekiel”, but it would apply here, so we will go over it. This concept also has applications to Yeshua as the suffering tzaddik. It has been discussed by scholars on how the suffering of the tzaddik might serve to atone for the sins of the people. Some have said that the tzaddik’s agony in the sight of the people inspires them to repent. While this may be true, when one looks at this carefully it will give us a more comprehensive picture.
In the Talmud, Sanhedrin 39a, it relates that a “min” (heretic) said to Rabbi Abuha, “Your God is a prankster, in that he made Ezekiel lie on his left and on his right side.” This heretic saw that this was bizarre behavior, even though symbolic. He used this opportunity to mock the Jewish belief in a wise and just God. The story continues that just then a student came to Rabbi Abuha and asked him to explain the significance of the law of Shemittah, which is the obligation to let the fields lie fallow every seven years. Rabbi Abuha said, ” I will answer you you both together. God commanded Israel to let its fields lie fallow every seventh year so that they should recognize that earth belongs to God. They did not do so and were driven into exile. When a country rebels against a mortal king, he will kill them all if he is cruel to them; if he is filled with mercy, he will cause the great ones among them to suffer. So also the Holy one, blessed be he, chastised Ezekiel in order to wipe out the sins of Israel. Thus, according to Sefer Chassidim, God’s Attribute of Justice seeks a punishment for the entire community, but is satisfied when it is meted out only to the Tzaddik.”
“The idea that the tzaddik suffers in lieu of the death of all or part of the community is elaborated upon in Sefer Chassidim. The passage begins with a discussion of the communal responsibility which rests on the entire Jewish nation: All Israel are responsible one for another. The sin of one is the sin of all. This, in his confession on Yom Kippur, the High Priest declares, “I have sinned together with all Israel.” He says this whether or not he personally has sinned. This is in order that people come to feel a sense of love and responsibility for one another and learn to rebuke one another.”
In another interesting concept associated with this, we see in Numbers 20.1 that Miriam died, and the rock/well that supplied their water (which also represents God’s blessings) was not to be found because in verse 2 we learn that there was no water, and the people assembled themselves against Moses and Aaron. This will be discussed later, but this incident will lead to the refusal to let Moses into the land. But we do see a connection between the death of Miriam, the rock that followed them and the absence of water.
The Lord wants us to move on with him. He gives us the best of the birthright, but we should avoid complaining along the way. Instead of complaining, as a question. In a family of congregation there will be complaining. Some “appetite” will not be met. Go to the person and ask, “What do you want?” But, that is not what happens. We go to someone and “share our hearts” thinking it will stay there, but it won’t. When “sharing” your concerns about someone, know you are speaking to many because it won’t stay with that person. If we are “over-burdened” God will send us “seventy” more people to help if you ask. Just don’t complain like Moses did (Num 11.1-15) and Aaron and Miriam.
If your family or congregation needs something, consider what you can do to help. Accept the responsibilities the Lord has given us. Don’t desire the “free stuff” of the past. It’s not about the manna, it’s about the Word of God. Be humble, know your place and put our own ego in the background. Pursue the goal God has given us, not personal accomplishments. We should move when the Lord says to move. The wilderness we are in is a test and life is tough, but keep going.
We will pick up here in Part 12.