Sibling Rivalry

When word reached Zipporah that two new prophets had been identified among the Jews, her response was a quiet murmur: “Oh, I feel for their wives, I hope their marriage won’t end as mine did.” Her sister-in-law, Miriam, overheard her and asked her to explain. Zipporah replied that ever since the Ten Commandments were given at Sinai, Moses had separated from her.

Miriam was appalled. She felt that this level of abstinence was overreaching and turned to her brother Aaron. “Does G‑d speak only to Moses?” she asked, “He speaks to us too. If G‑d can speak to us despite our normal married lives, why does Moses think he should be different?”

G‑d immediately appeared to Miriam and explained that Moses was a unique prophet. He spoke to G‑d as one would speak to his fellow. “I communicate with him clearly and not with riddles. He gazes directly upon me. For this level of spiritual attentiveness, he must be perpetually conditioned for prophecy. He can’t toggle back and forth. Unlike you, Moses is compelled to lead a life of abstinence.”1

Miracle of Marriage

G‑d’s response to Miriam indicates that it is not possible to be in a prophetic state while engaged in physical intimacy. If this is the case, Miriam, a prophetess in her own right, should have known this and admired Moses for choosing to remain continually in the prophetic state rather than toggle back and forth. In other words, if prophecy is a higher state than married life, why was Miriam appalled that Moses opted for the higher state?2

Miriam’s objection tells us that intimacy in married life is holier than the prophetic state. G‑d’s response informed her that Moses enjoyed a unique brand of prophecy that transcended even married life.

Man and Woman

The chief characteristic of marriage is that it joins a man and a woman. It often seems that these two types have no business merging—can there be anything as different as man is from woman?

The merging of such polar opposites is nothing short of miraculous. It is said that when opposites attract, sparks fly. The mystical reason for this is that the only way for complete opposites to be drawn toward each other is through the manifestation of a third and higher power, in whose presence all differences fade.

Imagine two people in perpetual disagreement. Where one is cerebral, the other is emotional. Where one is quiet, the other is loud. Where one is cautious, the other is rash. No matter the place and time, they are always in disagreement. Except for one scenario. When they appear before the king. In His Majesty’s presence they are both overawed, and their differences fade to insignificance. Before the king, they are simply loyal subjects.

G‑d is infinitely great. What’s more, He is omnipotent. G‑d can bring opposites together because before Him, they are not altogether different. Furthermore, G‑d is the single origin of the entire world. All the opposites in the world emerge from the same G‑d. In His presence, opposites intuit their common origin and uncover their ability to unite.

When opposites attract, sparks fly—because it is the presence of something absolutely great (read: G‑d) that drives the attraction in the first place. When the Infinite is present, everything is intense, including the relationship. Of course sparks fly.

Nowhere are the differences more pronounced than in intimacy, and nowhere is the presence of the Divine more palpable to facilitate this attraction. This is precisely why it is only in this arena that man and woman become active partners with G‑d in the act of creation. The infinite power of G‑d is present.3 The raw force of life is active. Thus, the capacity for conception is generated.

Miriam and Moses

Miriam knew without doubt that matrimony is much more sacred than prophecy. When receiving prophecy, one might feel holier, experience spirituality, be aware of acute clarity, but it is not the apex of G‑dliness. On the contrary, the interfacing with the Divine during prophecy is a lowly level of G‑dliness—one tailored to the measure of our capacity.

Miriam thus lamented that Moses deliberately forsook marriage for prophecy. She too was a prophet. So was Aaron. The occasional bout and spiritual thrill of prophecy notwithstanding, they both understood the need for married life. She was perplexed as to why Moses failed to understand this.

G‑d then appeared to Miriam and explained that Moses’ prophecy was not at all like her own. Moses was unique in the annals of history. No one ever saw G‑d the way Moses did. Moses saw G‑d as one would see his fellow. Just like you take in the totality of your fellow when you gaze upon him, so did Moses absorb the holiness of G‑d.

Moses could absorb this intense energy and withstand the supreme experience without flinching. The ordinary person would pass out from the sheer thrill and intensity. They would be unable to filter the awesome vision through the prisms of eye and mind. Somehow Moses could. Somehow Moses did.

For the average prophet, marriage was holier than prophecy. For Moses, however, prophecy was holier than marriage. Miriam finally understood that Moses had made the right choice. And as is often the case, what is right for one is not necessarily right for another.

Moses was Moses and Miriam was Miriam. We are certainly not like Moses. We have never experienced even a modicum of prophecy, let alone the prophecy of Moses. What we do have, however, is the sanctity of marriage. Let us appreciate the power of a marriage to usher in the presence of the Divine.

Marriage is not only a partnership of man and woman. It is a partnership of three—man, woman and G‑d. “A thrice repeated knot will not soon unravel.”4 If we let G‑d into our marriage and become aware of the holiness in our homes, our relationships will be strengthened. May we be blessed with robust, happy, loving marriages, founded on the precepts of the Torah and illuminated by the light of Jewish mysticism.5