Beha’alotecha: Black is beautiful

black is beautifulWas the biblical Miriam guilty of racial prejudice?

We feel uncomfortable with that idea somehow.

Rashi as he often does, tries to resolve the problem by adding things into the text or deleting things from the text, or re-reading the verse. He has no problem with changing a word’s meaning to solve a problem. For example in this week’s parasha when Miriam talks about Moshe’s Kushi wife, and Rashi does not understand who the Kushi wife is, since the only wife we know about is Tzipora, a Midianite, Rashi changes the meaning of the word.

He takes the word Kushi, turns it into numbers and says the word now means beautiful instead of what it really means. Others disagree with this approach to Torah study. If Moshe/God wanted to say beautiful, why didn’t he just write the word for beautiful? Why would write Kushit (which means Ethiopian or black) with the expectation that we would know how to play boggle with the verse and change the word to “beautiful” using gematria?

Rashi’s approach to biblical commentary is often to sacrifice the text for the explanation.

Others prefer to stay as true to the text as possible and will work on a more forced explanation without sacrificing the text.

Ibn Ezra, for example, keeps the text as Kushit and simply explains that Tzipora the Midianite was dark skinned.

Others suggest that Moshe had another Kushit wife, that we somehow did not know about.

So was Miriam prejudiced. Well yes, apparently she was. And she was punished for it. And she learned her lesson

HT Rabbi Henry Hasson

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