Finding our Voices

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Simone Schicker is a second year rabbinic student at HUC-JIR. Her favorite area to read and write about is Judaism and relationships – including women and LGBTQ issues, reproductive rights, sex, gender identity and marriage. Check out Simone’s other Double Mitzvah columns, Giants in the Land – LGBT Rights Torah Style and last week’s column, Sacrifices, Holiness and Equality.

Rated PG
How do we speak about those who are different than us? We are often taught that those who are different than us are to be feared, and yet for many of us we are the ones who are different within our families. Unlike being a religious minority or an ethnic minority, being a sexual minority is not something that one can always share with those closest to us – our immediate family. Many of us have had to hide our true desires from those who raised us because of a fear of what will happen when those who are supposed to take care of us react negatively to our inner selves. Our sexual or gender identity is an essential part of who we are as individuals and growing up in a home, school, community or world that sees us as “less than” is an incredibly painful experience.

This week’s parsha, Chukat, discusses the sacrifice of the red heifer, whose ashes cleanse a person who is ritually impure – generally from touching a dead body. The placement of this ritual sets up the death of one of the leaders of the people, Miriam. According to tradition, with her death, the well she cared for also dries up and this is why the community is without water and calls out against Moses and Aaron. Moses and Aaron go and cry out to G-d who responds by saying that they should order the rock to give forth water. But, rather than asking the rock for water Moses says to the people “Listen, you rebels, shall we get water for you out of this rock?” And Moses hits the rock twice and the rock gives water to the people.

It is often said that it is Moses’s arrogance of saying “we” that causes G-d to punish Moses and not allow him into the Land, but that G-d allows the water to flow because G-d does not want to diminish Moses in front of the people. This is the understanding that I have had for many years, but recently a different interpretation of the story was brought to my attention. Yes, G-d punishes Moses for not doing as he was told but G-d also acknowledges the pain that Moses is feeling, from the death of his sister, by allowing the water to come forth from the rock. (1) This acknowledgement of Moses’s pain, and his inner suffering, speaks to me on a level beyond the story.

Miriam, Moses and Aaron did not have the most ideal home lives or relationships with one another. They suffered loss, they fought with one another and they were jealous of each other. These are all things that we have also experienced. At various points, Miriam and Aaron teamed up against Moses and caused him great pain because G-d spoke directly to him and not to them. One of the most well known is when Miriam and Aaron spoke behind Moses’s back about his marrying a Cushite woman and their desire to have G-d speak directly to them. That episode ends with Miriam being struck with leprosy and Moses and Aaron coming together to pray for her healing.

Moses is known as our great leader but he had a personal struggle that caused him to be separated from his immediate family: his lisp. Moses’s speech impediment caused him to feel that he was incapable of being wanted as the leader of his community even after G-d had chosen him to lead the people. G-d’s choice in Moses shows us that though we may be different than those around us we still all have something to give. While Moses had no power over when or how G-d would use him, just as we have no choice in whom we love or how we identify, both we and Moses have the power to choose to accept responsibility and leadership opportunities upon ourselves. Moses physically struggled with his speech, just as we struggle with expressing who we are to those closest to us. If Moses could find a way to express his voice then so can we.


1. Many thanks to Rabbi Asher Knight for the inspiration for this Double Mitzvah post.

Jewrotica is a spankin' new project with the power to provide a voice for Jewish sexual expression and meaningful conversation. Jewrotica is an online community-in-the-making and a database of delicious and grin-inducing Jewish stories and confessions. Join us!