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David Walk

Sibling Strife

I’m writing this article as I fly to the States. This presents me with a bit of a dilemma. When I left Ben Gurion Airport, the weekly Torah reading was Beha’aloticha, but as I land at Newark Liberty Airport the Torah has suddenly become Naso, and I’ve always hated reruns. Since I’m complaining about my situation I guess I should discuss Beha’aloticha, because with chapter 11 we begin the serious incidents of complaining as our ancestors crossed the wearisome Wilderness.  I also believe strongly that the default position for times should be Yerushalayim, IR HAKODESH. Beha’aloticha it is. 

Very few people in history have introduced an entire field of study. But Sigmund Freud was one of them. He, basically single-handedly brought psychoanalysis into the world of psychology and couches. Well, it’s hard to say single-handed, because he needed the patients, but he really put psychiatry on the map. He’s probably most famous for the Id, Ego, and Superego parts of the personality, but he’s also well-known for his ideas about maturity based on the Oedipus Complex. 

This concept describes the crucial stage of human development. It posits that the developing relationships with parents are critical (my parents were also critical of me) to the development of the child, especially between the ages of 3 to 5, but can influence the personality of the individual throughout their lives. 

Okay, and perhaps. I have no idea. I studied history in college,and claim little expertise even in that field of study. But the Torah weighed in on the topic of influences on the development of personalities, and suggested a different overriding influence, namely sibling rivalry. It’s impossible to study Sefer Breishit without feeling the power of this phenomenon.

The first homicide in history is a case of fratricide, with the very first siblings. The text doesn’t report on the negative influence of Yishmael on Yitzchak, but Sarah Imeinu certainly worried about it. The struggles between Ya’akov Avinu and Esav are epic. Finally, the sons of Ya’akov almost repeated the sin of Kayin. I think a case can be made that the Breishit stories could only end when we have been presented with the antidote to this ever present scourge: Namely, the case of Ephraim and Menashe.

Menashe was the elder and should have received all the accolades and power, but Ya’akov, much to the consternation of Yosef, places the younger in the position of rule. He then answers Yosef’s protest: I know, my son, I know. He too shall become a people, and he too shall be great. Yet his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall be plentiful enough for nations (Breishit 48:19).

Which brings us to our parsha. We have an enigmatic story which begins: Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses (Bamidbar 12:1). Now the actual complaint concerns Moshe’s wife,and they refer to her as Kushite.  This remains a bit of a mystery, because Moshe’s wife, Tzipora is a Midianite. 

In the Midrash, it is posited that the complaint was about an actual Kushite wife which Moshe married during his alleged sojourn there during those mystery years between the time he left Egypt until he arrived in Midian.

Probably the gossip was about Tzipora. Rashi explains that this reference was to her great beauty. It seems that the actual discussion was about the fact that Moshe stopped having marital relations, so that he would always be ready for Divine communications. That’s why they say, ‘Has God only spoken to Moshe. Has God not also spoken to us? (verse 2).

Well, yes, that’s true. God spoke to the entire nation at Sinai. However, they may have also supported Moshe’s position. At Sinai, they were instructed to remain ‘pure’ for three days to receive the epiphany. So, for Moshe to always be prepared for the next communique he had to refrain from sleeping with his wife. Moshe made many sacrifices for the nation.

But, at least for me, the true importance of the gossip was the sibling rivalry issue. Here we have three siblings all of whom are great spiritual leaders. They were the true guides for the nation. We see this later in Bamidbar, when the miraculous moving well disappeared with the death of Miriam and the clouds of Glory dispersed when Aharon died. These remarkable phenomena blessed the nation in their merit. They were giants.

This again demonstrates that huge issue in Breishit, sibling rivalry. This urge to challenge our brothers and sisters seems to be embedded in our DNA, or, perhaps, programmed into the ‘gray cells’ of our brains. 

But Moshe demonstrates that we can resist this phenomenon. He lets the insult flow on by. I think he recognizes the issue, and decides it is his sibs problem, not his. His IPUK, strength of character to hold back, is inspiring, and hopefully motivates us to make the effort to emulate this beautiful character trait.

Moshe not only resists this almost overwhelming urge to strike back which affects most of us, he also demonstrates care and love. When Miriam is punished for initiating the gossip session, Moshe immediately prays and cries out (TZA’AKA) for her: Please, Lord, heal her, please! (verse 12). I love the double NA, please. 

Menashe and Moshe teach us that we can resist this strong pull to fight and compete with our siblings. For the sake of families, our people and the whole world, we must fight this very natural, psychological urge, which is almost a compulsion. 

Again, I’m writing this as I wing my way to the USA, and will soon be visiting my beloved sister and her wonderful family. So, I hope and pray that I can heed my own advice.  

About the Author
Born in Malden, MA, 1950. Graduate of YU, taught for Rabbi Riskin in Riverdale, NY, and then for 18 years in Efrat with R. Riskin and R. Brovender at Yeshivat Hamivtar. Spent 16 years as Educational Director, Cong. Agudath Sholom, Stamford, CT. Now teach at OU Center and Yeshivat Orayta.
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