What the Tabloids Won’t Tell You About Moshe’s Wives

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At the end of Parshat Behaalotcha we read about Miriam speaking to Aharon about a Kushite woman (a woman with black skin from Ethiopia): “Miriam and Aharon spoke against Moshe regarding the Kushite woman he had married, for he had married a Kushite woman” (Bamidbar 12:1).


According to Rashbam who quotes the Midrash in Divrei HaYamim Shel Moshe Rabeinu, Moshe was the king of Kush (Ethiopia) for forty years between the time that he escaped from Egypt after killing the Egyptian until the time that he arrived in Midian and met Yitro. While living in Ethiopia, Moshe married the queen (the widow of King Nikonos) and became the king. However, Moshe never had relations with her since she was not an Israelite. The Midrash continues that after forty years the queen told her generals that Moshe never had relations with her and that she would like to marry a Kushite from her first husband’s lineage so that she will be able to have children. The generals thanked Moshe for serving as king and for helping them defeat the enemy and then asked him to take whatever riches he wanted and then they sent him on his way.


According to Abarbanel, this Midrash helps explain why Moshe left Egypt when he was twenty years old yet he only arrived in Midian at the age of sixty. Moshe’s experience as the ruler of Kush also helped him prepare for the difficult job that lay ahead of leading the Jewish people out of Egypt.


Why was Miriam discussing Moshe’s first wife with Aharon so many years later, after Moshe had already been married to Tzipora (a Midianite) with a family of their own?


Rashi states that at this point, Moshe was no longer having relations with Tzipra and that they were actually divorced so it reminded Miriam of the other time that Moshe had been married yet refrained from having relations.


No matter what Miriam said or who she was referring to, Miriam spoke Lashon HaRa (gossip) and was punished for it with Tzaraat (an illness similar to leprosy).


No matter how juicy your piece of gossip is -and it probably can’t get juicier than this Midrash about Moshe having a first wife- remember to try to hold back because there are consequences.