This is the dvar Torah read at Antoinette and Jay Deitcher’s wedding that was held at Congregation Ohav Shalom in Albany, NY on June 19th, 2016.
Torah Portion: B’haalot’kha– Numbers 8:1-12:16
When preparing for Annie and my wedding, Rabbi Dan told me that I didn’t have to give a dvar Torah. Annie and I did everything else super Jewy for this wedding, Ashkenazi style—I rocked a kittel, we didn’t see each other the week prior to the ceremony, and we broke our fast with smoked salmon and noodle kugel. It was Jewy enough; I could back out on giving the dvar Torah at the tisch.
I decided that I should at least look at the Torah portion, and when I did, holy moly, it’s the portion where Miriam got in trouble for talking smack about her brother Moses’s marriage to a black woman.
Then I realized that Annie, AKA Aviva, is a black woman.
So I had to do a dvar Torah.
“He married a Cushite woman,” Miriam said to Aaron.
The commentary in Etz Hayim states that a Cushite was “from either Nubia or Ethiopia.” Kush is the old-school name for what is now Northern Sudan. Back in the day, before common era, Kush was one of the richest and most powerful kingdoms in the world. It even whooped Rome’s behind a couple times, plus, these cats had pyramids, loads and loads of pyramids.
Moses’s boo was a dark skinned beauty with a strong family background. Note that we’re not gonna get into Moses’s skin tone, even though there’s a good chance it didn’t resemble mine. (I’m hella pink, yo.)
So G-D caught Aaron and Miriam speaking lashon hara, AKA gossip, and asked, “How then did you not shrink from speaking against My servant Moses!”
As punishment, Miriam was “stricken with snow-white scales!” “Aaron said to Moses, ‘O my lord, account not to us the sin which we committed in our folly.” And even Moses “cried out to the Lord, saying, ‘O G-D, pray heal her.’”
But Miriam was “shut out of camp for seven days.” This took place during our big schlep from Egypt to Israel, so we all had to wait for her return before we could continue our trek.
I want to tell you that Miriam was punished for racism, but the way our society breaks down race is a modern construct. Over two thousand years ago, black and white wasn’t so black and white. Oy. That was a bad joke.
Some commentators say Aaron and Miriam gossiped about Moses neglecting his wife. Some say, the Cushite woman wasn’t his wife Zipporah, the Cushite woman was his second wife, and Aaron and Miriam didn’t approve of his polygamous relationship.
One message that I take from the text is that neglect and polygamy are things that I will try to avoid in my marriage.
Many commentators think that it doesn’t matter what they were gossiping about, Aaron and Miriam’s punishment occurred because they spoke lashon hara about the dude G-D made his highest leader. If they had something to say, they shoulda said it to Moses’s face. And the reason why the punishment was so severe—because Aaron and Miriam were prophets, yo. They were held to higher expectations.
I just thought of a few more things I’d like you to take from my spiel—for the purposes of Annie and I, don’t talk smack about us. Oh, and if you see her or any other black Jews in your shul, try not to ask him or her if he or she needs help finding anything, especially if he or she comes every single week to services. They may be married to the next great Jewish leader.
I meant, they might be the next great Jewish leader.
Also, don’t refer to Black Jews as Cushi. Although it sounds kinda cute, like a comfy couch, it has been used negatively at times, so unless you want to be struck with leprosy, avoid using it.
On the topic of ignorance in our communities, here’s a generalization that is completely incorrect, but Annie and I will allow. Feel free to invite us over for Shabbos dinner and feed us stereotypically black foods. Sure, you never took into account that Annie’s family comes from Jamaica and Nigeria and not the south. And yes, Annie may get a tad bit upset, but I love me some fried chicken. I hate collards, but they are way better than gefilte fish.
For the remainder of my dvar Torah, I want to talk about gratitude, something many Israelites lacked. During their trek from Egypt, G-D hooked the Israelites up with delicious sky bread that could taste like anything they wanted. The thing was, they were provided just enough sky bread for each meal, and they had to trust that G-D would provide it again for the next meal.
And these crazy guys and gals “weeped” and “whine[d]” about wanting meat. They were all, we liked it better in Egypt where we were given fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic.
Keep in mind, their time in Egypt was prior to them receiving G-D’s commandments, so they weren’t governed by morals.
Moses immediately went to G-d and said “I cannot carry all this people by myself, for it is too much for me. If you would deal thus with me, kill me rather, I beg you…” In the past, Moses pleaded with G-D to forgive the Israelites for the Golden Calf. In the past, Moses pleaded with G-D to forgive the Israelites for the spies fiasco. But when the Israelites glorified slavery, Moses told G-D to take his life ‘cause he couldn’t deal with those lunatics.
I am not mister gratitude. My favorite hobby is complaining. I only have gratitude when I am faced with losing something. Plus, I have difficulty having faith in the future.
This is Annie and my second wedding. Our first was a civil ceremony six months ago. It was big event at the New York State Museum. This was supposed to be a small function.
Prior to our first wedding, all I knew was anxiety. I told myself, Annie and I could never merge cultures, that Annie was better off with a different dude. The last thing the black community needs is some white dude taking one of their talented tenth. I catastrophized worse case scenarios, all leading to divorce. After we have kids, when we split, would they be raised Jewish? I carried the burden of 5,700 years of Jewish heritage, and I was letting my ancestors down. I turned on the TV and saw the media portraying couples in love and I asked, why don’t we act like them? Why do we bicker? What the heck is starry eyed?
Single life, I could do. I knew what to expect. I didn’t have anyone depending on me other than my immediate family. With Annie, the stakes were too high. I could really hurt someone I cared for. With Annie, I had to put off instant gratification and look out for a new tribe I was building.
But I didn’t have to. I could totally Peter Pan it and remain a bachelor. I could buy all the Kangols and New Era hats I wanted. I could eat fried food every day. I could read comics all night, and go to the casino on weekends. I could socialize with people on my terms, and not have to come home after a tough day at the insane asylum/school that I work at and have to think about someone else’s emotions.
Through my questioning, G-D continued to provide sky bread. If I took my relationship one day at a time, trying to be my best today instead of obsessing over the uncertainty of the future, me and Annie could continue to move forward. In our time together, we had both accomplished incredible things. We motivated each other. Even when we fought, we both looked up to the other. We were stubborn, sure, but there was respect. She got her master’s in marketing; I became a successful social worker. We both grew more spiritual together. We started a family, and like everything we do together, our family was better than we could have imagined. Our doggy Teddy is happy at all times and never barks. So G-D was providing the nourishment, but I worried about the future and glorified the past.
But after months of disturbed sleep, after months of painful conversations, after months of praying for guidance that would never be concrete enough to ease my nerves, Annie and I stood before a judge and said “I do.”
In the Torah portion, G-D provided the community with increased spirituality from their leaders. G-D also provided them with so much meat that it “[came] out [their] nostrils.” Many didn’t continue their journey. Many died from eating too much.
But I made it.
This wedding wasn’t supposed to be a big deal. It was supposed to be small, and we were supposed to go out to lunch after.
Once Annie and I jumped the broom, everything changed. We worked on learning to actively listen to one another. I sought help for my anxiety and Annie practiced communicating when she was frustrated instead of telling me that I annoy her and then not talking to me for days. I worked on my obsession with schedules and controlling how things are done. I worked on trusting her and her spontaneity.
This wedding has become much more meaningful because today I can have faith and gratitude. I am ready to give up meat, not really, just symbolically. Remember to feed me fried chicken for Shabbos. I love Annie and love the future we are building. We are taking over, baby. A light unto the nations. I ain’t worried ‘bout falling apart because we have shown we are determined to work through things together.
I guess the lesson is that we should all have gratitude for the sky bread on our journey to Zion. And, of course, the sky bread is dark skinned.
Jay Deitcher is a writer and licensed social worker from Albany, NY. His writing has appeared in the Jewish Literary Journal and his computer.
“Zipporah: Bible” by Tikva Frymer-Kensky
Found at: http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/zipporah-bible
“Kushi’ is Not Demeaning” by Ibrahim M. Omer
Found at: http://www.jewishmag.com/180mag/kushi/kushi.htm
Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary edited by David L. Lieber, Chaim Potok, Jules Harlow, Elliot Dorff and Susan Grossman, with Haftarah Commentary by Michael Fishbane.