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Supporting Each Other (Even When in Pain)

05/01/2023 10:29:43 AM


Cantor Barbara Powell

There's a powerful story in parashat BeHa’alotkha, of Miriam being stricken with serious illness. Miriam and Aaron were gossiping against Moses and his wife, complaining that she was a foreigner. In Num. 12:1-16, After God leaves Miriam’s skin covered in white scales as a punishment; she is sent outside the camp. Aaron is rebuked by God. Though the hurtful words were directed at his family, Moses nevertheless pleads with God in supplication on Miriam's behalf, "El Na Refa Na La! God, Heal Her!" The way Moses humbly expresses compassion for his sister is moving. Miriam is healed after a period of time. The community waits seven days for Miriam’s recovery to be complete before readmitting her to their camp, after which point they go on with their travels. 

It is not the miraculous effect of Moses’s prayer, which is extraordinary to me, but it is the way the community cared for Miriam. Even someone punished for instigating gossip, there is care and support in their suffering a punishment. Built into this story is the recognition that healing takes time. The community waited for Miriam’s recovery and  return, so they could proceed on their journey as one people. 

In today’s world, when we feel alienated by disagreement over aspects of life such as politics, religion, or ethics, to name a few, it is not so easy to go back to the metaphorical camp of a unified people. In recognition of this, we are learning how to maintain connections even across passionately held differences. In a recent workshop with visiting scholar, Irshad Manji, I was inspired by her teaching about how we can support ourselves and each other in a quest for common ground. Manji’s approach to such difficult conversations includes tips such as checking in with your body with a deep breath, acknowledging a difference of opinion, making a sincere inquiry, and deeply listening, with the goal of understanding where someone else is coming from. Seeking out the differences between points of view, she advocates, improves one’s own understanding. If you would like to view the workshop, click HERE. (If you watch the video and would like to be more involved or learn more, you will be eligible to take the Moral Courage On-Line Course. Please email for next steps after watching the video.) I heard echoes of the teaching by Gary Friedman, another visiting scholar, in his recognition that though we can’t always agree about an issue or a topic, cultivating the skills that allow us to stay connected, and talking to each other, is a worthy endeavor. CBJ had the opportunity to learn from these two scholars through the efforts of the Tikva Task Force. I am grateful for the chance to learn from these inspiring teachers. 

Thinking back to Miriam, rejoining the people after her illness, the disagreements that alienate us can make us feel like we no longer belong, that we should pull back from the community. Yet, I am encouraged by the thought that, with ongoing dedication to seeing the Tzelem Elohim/Divine Image reflected in each person, we can be the community that goes forward together.

Sat, June 22 2024 16 Sivan 5784