the stillborn tumble
before you can be
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This chapter continues directly from the previous. It shares all its key words: "to gather" asaf, "flesh" basar, "eat" achal "and "prophecy" "n'v'i) and is defined by the same "flaming anger" (hori af) of God--an anger that was previously held at bay by Moses' prayers.
The sudden spread of prophecy in the previous chapter removes the crushing burden of leadership from Moses. But it also undermines him. "And they [Miriam and Aaron] said: 'Has God only spoken to Moses? Has He not also spoken to us?'" God descends once more to the Tent of Meeting to protect Moses' uniqueness: Moses is "faithful" (ne'eman, from same root as omen, nursing, nursemaid). .
For once, all three siblings are called together, only to be separated from three, to two, to one. Aaron and Miriam are called forth; and then Miriam is punished alone, and barred from the camp for 7 days.
The parental imagery of birth and motherhood that so dominated the previous chapter return, but with a distinctly darker hue. In place of a bratty, overwhelming child, we have a stillborn: "Let her not be as the dead, who comes out of her mother's womb with half her flesh consumed!". God's position as angry father also becomes more explicit and more personally devastating: "and if her father had spit in her face, would she not be shamed for seven days?"
It is Miriam, who acted as mother to Moses, "watching from afar" as he was carried down the Nile, who took care to see that he was nursed, who is punished in the wake of Moses' despairing refusal to act as mother, "bearing the nursling against his chest."]