The Torah doesn’t tell us much about Tzipora, Moshe’s wife and even less about her relationship to her in-laws and the greater family. In this week’s parasha though, we hear Moshe’s siblings, Miriam and Aharon referred to Tzipora in the following manner:
“על אודות האישה הכושית אשר לקח”
The quote refers to Tzipora as “Isha Kushit” – a derogatory term for a black woman – and though it would be hard to claim that Aharon and Miriam were nasty and bad people since we are told throughout the Torah how righteous they were; it is certainly perturbing to read about them possibly referring to their sister-in-law in such offensive manner. Essentially mocking her for her skin color?
If we think about it deeply, this is the human nature: to always recognize differences between others that are “different” or “special”. Sometimes this is due to their skin color, religion, culture, or other physical and mental differences. That sense of difference affects us in many ways and can lead to stigmas and distance or even worse behaviors.
If I were to be in a town where everyone is Buddhist I’ll certainly feel weird being a Jew; in a town where everyone is extremely tall, I’ll certainly be special as a 167cm long (5.5 feet); in a town where everyone around me speaks only Thai, I’ll certainly feel odd knowing nothing but Hebrew or English.
Tzipora was unique in the desert generation. She didn’t have the “classic” Jewish look. And that look was so outstanding it led even her brother and sister in law to talk about her behind her back.
Baruch Hashem we’re living in a generation where there is no more a “classic” Jewish look: we have brothers and sisters from all continents and with all skin colors, heights and cultures.
But if we wish to seek what we can learn from the story of Tzipora today, we can perhaps ask ourselves this: who are todays “כושית” in our society?
Midrash Tanhuma teaches us that
“A man is known by three names:
When reading man’s second name it’s clear to me exactly why Tzipora’s story is still relevant nowadays: most of us won’t define a person by their skin color, culture, or religion. In my daily life I am the founder and CEO of the SHAI Project; an initiative that aims to educate children about the lives of people with disabilities. I find that many people will still use peoples disabilities as their primary defining characteristic…
“- Which Dan? - Wheelchair Dan!”
“- Who’s Nathalie? - She’s the blind girl from the next block.”
People do this not because they’re mean and want to cause offense (I hope) but rather because it’s in our nature - if we don’t know and interact with people with disabilities as young children and meet them in all stages of our lives, then they will always seem different to us.
Thankfully we live in an era where educators and employees understand more and more how much can everyone earn from integration. Still, we are far from being a society that is truly inclusive to all.
I hope therefore, that we all take the message from this week’s parasha to meet, interact, and better understand one another, regardless of our disabilities.
Aryeh Jacobson is the founder & CEO of SHAI Project, an Israeli-based non-profit, aiming at educating children about the lives of people with disabilities.
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