I love it.
For Parshat Shemot, it mentions a little-known fact about Miriam HaNeviah (the Prophetess):
In contrast to the majority of other saintly personalities throughout the Torah, Moshe Rabbeinu's famous big sister was not so good-looking.
And that's putting it lightly.
Rejected, Sickly, and Pale
- Yeriot (curtains)—because her face was extremely pale like yeriot.
- Chelah (sickly)—because she was sickly.
- Azuvah (rejected, abandoned)—because "everyone abandoned her" due to not wanting to marry her because of her sickly, unattractive appearance (!!!)
It's hard to believe after everything she did for Am Yisrael, no one wanted to marry her due to her sickly, unattractive self.
Such wholesale rejection implies severe unattractiveness (but Chazal is too nice to come right out & say it. But the implication is definitely there).
Also, think of the tremendous slap-in-the-face against the concept of positive middah-k'neged-middah (measure-for-measure) this must have seemed.
After all, since her young girlhood, Miriam HaNeviah embodied the concept of unswerving loyalty.
She stood by the continuation of Am Yisrael by encouraging the fruitfulness of Am Yisrael under the sick decree of Pharaoh against the newborn boys of Yisrael.
She stood by her baby brother as he floated down the Nile.
Later, she risked her life as Puah to stand by Am Yisrael as a dedicated midwife, saving life after life.
She never abandoned one Jew, even at risk to her own life.
So how was it that she herself was abandoned & rejected to such an extreme?
Also, while sickly is never an asset, it used to be worse before modern technology.
With so much of the most basic domestic duties demanding intensive labor (getting a fire going, digging up vegetables & washing them without running water, hand-washing laundry, cooking, childbirth, nursing, childcare, etc.) that challenged a healthy woman, how could a sickly woman possibly manage?
Sure, in the Midbar, bnei Yisrael enjoyed the luxury of manna & the Cloud Pillar (which did the laundry), but women still faced other demands.
And can you imagine being such an object of rejection that it becomes your name?
You know how people sarcastically say, "If you look up _____ in the dictionary, you'll find my name under the definition"?
Well, for Miriam, it was literally true! Azuvah. Rejected. Abandoned. Unwanted.
Yet one man rose to the occasion: Kalev ben Yefuneh.
Her Greatest Flaws were Paradoxically Her Greatest Assests
Kalev married Miriam solely for her holy personality.
And because he married l'Shem Shamayim (for the sake of Heaven, for the purest motives), Kalev earned unique merits; Hashem rewarded him richly.
After marriage, Miriam's appearance transformed into the opposite of what it had been.
Thus, she became known by new names:
- Vardon (a type of rose)—because she developed a beautiful rose-like appearance
- Na'arah (young woman)—because she became healthy & beautiful like the ideal young woman.
While her initial state of extended singlehood may not have seemed fair (after all, she was a savior of Am Yisrael—and saved Am Yisrael more than once!), it was her flaws that launched her into a marriage with one of the best men of the Nation.
Only Kalev was willing to marry such a sickly & unattractive tzaddikah.
Had she been more attractive & healthier, she would've had her pick of husband—a very good man, of course, but still not on the level of Kalev ben Yefuneh.
Yet after she married Kalev, she no longer needed her sickliness & unattractiveness. Those negative qualities had served their intended purpose. So Hashem replaced them with health & beauty.
Also, this marriage enabled Miriam to become a mother of royalty.
She not only married into the Tribe of Yehudah, but Mashiach descends from Kalev's line—a fitting reward for the woman who served as the courageous midwife, Puah.
So Miriam's "flaws" actually ended up being her assets; they enabled both her & Kalev ben Yefuneh to express their highest levels of emunah & righteousness.
This aspect of Miriam's life also recall the theme of rejection running throughout the lives of our most brilliant & most accomplished ancestors: Noach, Leah Imeinu, Yosef Hatzaddik, Moshe Rabbeinu, David Hamelech, Chana HaNeviah, the Shoftim (Judges) Gidon & Shimshon, Yirmiyahu HaNavi...
Even ma'asu habonim hayatah l'rosh pinah.
The stone despised & rejected by the most expert & professional builders?
THAT stone ends up as the foundational cornerstone of the most important building in the world.
Please, please, please realize that Mashiach descends from rejection, loneliness, and maltreatment.
Throughout the line of Mashiach, you do not find stories of privilege, honor, popularity, power, and prestige (at least, not initially, anyway).
This is straight from the Torah.
Being cast down & cast aside may paradoxically be signs of GREATNESS, and not signs of inferiority.
Please never give up on yourself and please do not believe a society that tells you otherwise.
A Modern-Day Miriam-Kalev Shidduch Story
A yeshivah student was set to marry a poor, sickly, pockmarked girl with sterling middot from a wonderful family.
Though repelled by her appearance, he strove to overcome his repulsion by speaking positively with his roommate, repeatedly emphasizing her wonderful & righteous personality.
However, as they stood together under the chuppah, the bridegroom realized he simply could not go through with it.
He stepped down, effectively abandoning her under the chuppah before the crowd gathered to celebrate the wedding.
His roommate, who spent so much time hearing about the bride's exceptional character, stepped up to marry her instead with the intent of saving her from this public humiliation.
She agreed and they married.
Not long after the wedding, her pockmarks, ill health, and other external flaws completely cleared up, showing a very nice-looking girl.
It's clear that, as with the case of Miriam HaNeviah, Hashem arranged these physical defects in order for her to marry the right guy—someone like Kalev ben Yefuneh, who publicly demonstrated his willingness to marry a woman purely for the sake of Heaven. (In this case, solely to save her from this public & shocking rejection.)
After meriting such a wonderful husband, she no longer needed her physical flaws, so Hashem wiped them away.
They ended up raising a large & particularly wonderful family—just like Kalev & Miriam did too.
- What Tanach Teaches Us about Responding to Rejection & Persecution
- Loneliness & Rejection as Aspects of Mashiach
- The #1 Path to True Greatness & Achieving Your Absolute Best: Rejection, Isolation, and Being Quashed
- Were You Ever Despised or Treated as Inferior? Then You Need to Read Rav Avigdor Miller's Dvar Torah for Parshat Vayetzei