Kozriel Witherspoon: Isha HaCushit

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In this week’s parasha, we learn that the wife of Moshe Rabbeinu was a Cushit.

The Torah is a book to teach us how to behave in the presence of Hashem and man. When Moshe Rabbeinu went to receive the Torah, the angels were ready to kill him; however, his response held their hands. Moshe Rabbeinu told the angels that according to the Midrash, humankind need the Torah to help improve our lives: “You all here are perfect, what need do you have for it?” Only after this did the angels allow Moshe Rabbeinu to take the Torah.

With this thought of improvement in mind: why does the Torah highlight the Cushit wife of Moshe Rabbeinu? The Gemara in Moed Katan says:

כיוצא בדבר אתה אומר (במדבר יב, א) על אודות האשה הכושית אשר לקח וכי כושית שמה והלא ציפורה שמה אלא מה כושית משונה בעורה אף ציפורה משונה במעשיה.

Just as a Cushit stands out with his skin, Zipporah stands out with her actions. Rashi (Numbers 12:1) takes it further: “You may find a woman who is beautiful outwardly but not with her actions; or one beautiful because of her actions but not because of her outward looks. This woman, however, was beautiful in every respect.” There was no question about the caliber of woman she was.

When I was in yeshiva, I asked a Rabbi of mine, “Why, if it’s going to be so hard for me to be black, did G-d make me this way?”

He responded, “Koz, I wish I were you. You have a opportunity to make a greater kiddush Hashem, because no matter where you go you will stand out. It will be shown and known that you serve G-d because you are different. Everyone else gets to fit in and fake it, but you can’t. You stick out and you have a greater opportunity to make a Kiddush HaShem in everything you do.”

I was still bothered, so I ran to talk to my Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Nota Schiller. He took me to this passuk and told me that Rashi gives a negative and positive comment on the wife of Moshe. “In your life you have the ability to stand out for good or for bad, but you must choose, and the special thing is you get to stand out inwardly and outwardly.”

Both of my Rabbaim told me the same thing, and this I believe is the message of Moshe Rabbeinu’s wife. She was beautiful, and her beauty was not just a token to wear on her skin, through her appearance, that grabbed so much attention; it was her actions that spoke for her. The Cushit woman was pleasing before G-d and man.

The lesson I wish to convey from the pointing out of Tzipporah and from my own story is God does not care about the appearance or ethnicity of a person, but only the way that they behave and live their life. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us all to judge people by their actions at the moment in their growth to become a better person; not their wealth, clothing, ethnicity, or race, but their strive to bring themselves and humanity closer to God.

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