A teacher once told me that the entire Torah, or Old Testament, can be read as a story cycle of Otherness, Exile, and Redemption. Of course, the ultimate example of this is the story of Passover many of us will dive into at our socially distanced Seders this week. First, Moses grows up as an “other” – a Jewish man living as a prince among the Egyptians. Then he is exiled into the desert. Through courage, perseverance and some powerful divine magic, he is able to find redemption for himself and the Jewish people, as they wander the desert for a seemingly endless 40 years, and finally enter the land of Israel. Never has this story felt more relevant.
This larger narrative contains several mini stories, many of which follow this same cycle. A lesser known story (told in only a few sentences in the text) is the story of Miriam’s battle with leprosy. Miriam is Moses’s sister, and she and her other brother Aaron play a key role throughout the Passover story. Miriam is best known for leading the Jewish people in a song of thanks after safely crossing the Red Sea, and for her mysterious well, which provided water and healing for the Jewish people during their wanderings in the desert. A family argument results in Miriam being suddenly struck with this dangerous and frightening illness. How will the two brothers, and the Jewish people, react?
First Aaron goes to Moses, and asks him to help her. Moses then prays, with this one simple statement: “So Moses cried out to Adonai, saying, “O God, pray heal her!” This prayer is the shortest prayer in all of the Torah, and yet, one of the most beautiful for its simplicity and power.
God replies that in order for Miriam to be healed from her illness, she must be isolated from her people for a period of seven days. For seven days, she is alone in the desert – alone, lonely, and afraid. Exiled.
Despite their fear of this terrible illness, the Jewish people do something remarkable. They wait. They do not continue on their journey until it is safe for Miriam to rejoin the tribe. Eventually, the healing is complete, the siblings reunite, and the tribe continues their journey together.
This is a story where everyone did the right thing. Despite the bitter argument leading to these events, the brothers supported their sister Miriam as she quarantined herself until it was safe to return. And the Jewish people waited as long as necessary for their family to be complete before continuing their journey. Everyone took a pause, and then life went on.
Like many of you, I am missing my family as Passover approaches. A Seder without grandparents and cousins and nephews seems almost too strange to be believable. I’m praying for members of my community, and the world, that are ill. I am trying to do the right thing, every day. As Miriam experienced, isolated in the desert, the right thing isn’t always easy. But Jewish tradition tells us that every good deed will lead us to what we are all waiting for – Healing and Redemption. It’s a cycle we can all believe in.
A traditional Passover Seder ends with the words “Next year in Jerusalem. Next year, may we be truly free.” The staff at the 14th Street Y hopes you can find joy with your family during this strange time, and next year, may we all be together again.
Looking for ways to celebrate Passover together during this time apart? Join us for the Making Matzoh Balls With My Mommy Facebook live event Wednesday, April 8 at 11:00 AM to learn how LABA Director and Cultural Producer Laura Newmark makes her family’s signature matzoh ball soup!