Double Mitzvah – B’haalotcha

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Written by Tamar Fox. Check out last week’s post in this series, Double Mitzvah – Naso.

Rated PGIn this week’s Torah portion, B’haalotcha, the Israelites receive instructions regarding Passover; they journey from Sinai and complain to God on several occasions, provoking God’s anger. Finally, at the end of the parashah, Miriam and Aaron speak against Moses, because he is married to a foreign woman, and God angrily afflicts Miriam (but not Aaron) with tzaraat, an illness that leaves her covered in white scales. Moses cries out to God for Miriam to be healed, and God says to Moses, “If her father spat in her face, would she not bear her shame for seven days? Let her be shut out of camp for seven days, and then let her be readmitted.”

There are a couple of relationship lessons to be learned here:

1) Being judgmental about others’ relationships is bad news. Even when you may feel you’re in the right, it probably won’t end well – for any involved- if you pass judgment on others.

2) There’s some value to being shamed.

The first lesson is relatively simple. We know it’s bad to shame others, and we have varying levels of success at dealing with it. I am no saint in this matter, and probably can’t contribute much to this discussion beyond the most basic pronouncement that you probably have no idea what you’re talking about when you judge someone else’s relationships. A third party can never really know the whole story, since relationships are intrinsically a delicate balance of complications and compromises, nuanced with each partner’s unique history and predilections – and also, it’s none of your business.

The second is more complex. For the most part, I am against shaming people, and against the many ways that society likes to shame people, particularly women, for natural and otherwise completely fine behavior (such as, but not limited to: wearing skirts that do not cover their ankles, having consensual sex with a partner, speaking in public, or driving a car). I am also keenly aware of how toxic a wrongful shaming can be. The media that we all consume is notorious for getting the story sort of right and then moving on, often leaving women and men publicly shamed on the internet in a way that’s unlikely to ever be truly erased or forgotten.

But I also know what it’s like to be rightfully shamed. To have someone say to me, “That thing you’re saying is wrong, and hurtful, and you should be ashamed of yourself.” When you are ashamed of yourself, you could probably do to spend some time alone, thinking about where you went wrong, and thinking how you’d like to make it better. And then, just like the Israelites do after the seven days of Miriam’s shame, you should move on – a changed, humbled person.

Shabbat shalom!

Author of Jewrotica's Double Mitzvah column, Tamar Fox is a writer and editor in Philadelphia. She will try anything once, including open relationships, dating someone who is chalav yisrael, and going to Suriname.
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  • Ayo Oppenheimer

    Hah. Your first point (not judging) seemed fairly obvious and logical to me, while the second point gave me pause. To assert that shame can be a good thing? That is not something that I frequently hear. But you make your argument well and, depending on context and execution, it could be very positive and constructive indeed.

    I’d love to hear more, perhaps more examples of when shame can be a positive value, from you or our readers.