Toward the end of this parasha, we are told how G‑d bestowed the gift of prophecy on the seventy elders. At that time, Miriam was standing next to Moses' wife, Zipporah, when Gershom ran to Moses, saying,
"Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp."

When Zipporah heard this, she said, "Woe to their wives if they have become prophets, for they will now separate from them, just as Moses has separated from me." Miriam overheard this and assumed that Moses had done this because he felt it was inappropriate for a prophet to become defiled by marital relations (See Lev. 15:18) just as G‑d had bidden the whole people to refrain from marital relations in preparation for the revelation at the Giving of the Torah. (Ex. 19:15)

However, she also knew that she and her brother Aaron had received prophetic revelations and had not been required to separate from their spouses, so she assumed that it was Moses' own idea to separate and thought that this was unfair to Zipporah. Miriam later told Aaron about this, and Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses regarding how he was treating Zipporah. The Torah describes this as follows: "Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses regarding the Cushite woman he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman. They said, 'Has G‑d spoken only to Moses? Has He not spoken to us, too?'" (Num. 12:1-2) The Land of Israel is the earthly manifestation of the 'woman of valor'….

Zipporah is here referred to as "the Cushite woman" because her physical beauty was as incontestable as the darkness of the skin of a Cushite woman, and in addition, her deeds were also as faultless as a Cushite woman is black. The absoluteness of her character contrasts with the way he was mistreating her - at least in Miriam's and Aaron's eyes.

However, the Torah refers to Moses' wife as "the Cushite woman" for another reason, as well.

My master [the Arizal], of blessed memory, told me that he heard from a great sage in our generation by the name of Rabbi Kalonymus, of blessed memory, an explanation of this passage of the Torah, as follows:

We have seen how the patriarch Jacob's body and skeleton were both buried in the Land of Israel. (Gen. 49:4-13)

"Body" here refers to the flesh.

Joseph's bones were buried [in the Land of Israel], but not his body.

He was buried in Egypt. (Gen. 50:26) His body had decomposed by the time his bones were taken out of Egypt. (Ex. 13:19) They were buried in Shechem. (Joshua 24:32)

Neither Moses' body or bones [were buried in the Land of Israel].(Deut. 34:5-6)

The reason for this is that the Land of Israel is the earthly manifestation of the "woman of valor" who "fears G‑d." (Proverbs 31:10,30)

The phrase "fears G‑d" can also be read "the fear/awe of G‑d". Thus, mystically, the "woman of valor", Nukva of Zeir Anpin, is also the (lower level of the) fear of G‑d, the aspect of our relationship with G‑d associated with the sefira of malchut.

Because Jacob did not marry Timna, the sister of Lotan, as our Sages relate (Sanhedrin 99b; Yalkut Shimoni, Bereishit 129), he merited to have both his body and skeleton buried in the Land of Israel.

In giving the genealogy of Esau and the history of his progeny, the Torah also describes the people who originally inhabited the land he eventually possessed, the Chorites.

"These are the sons of Seir the Chorite, the [original] inhabitants of the land: Lotan, Shoval, Tzivon, Anah, Dishon, Ezer, and Dishan. These were the tribal chiefs of the Chorites among the sons of Seir in the land of Edom. The sons of Lotan were Chori and Hemam, and Lotan's sister was Timna. "(Gen. 36:20-22)

The reason the Torah tells us who Lotan's sister was is because she wanted to convert to Judaism, but neither Abraham, Isaac, nor Jacob would accept her. She even offered to be Jacob's concubine, but Jacob refused her. She then declared, "I would rather be a concubine to anyone from this nation [i.e. a descendant of Abraham] than a princess in another nation" and indeed, became Esau's son's concubine: "Timna was a concubine of Esau's son Eliphaz, and she bore Amalek to Eliphaz." (Ibid. v.12)

Regarding Joseph: he did sin in thought, and drops of his semen issued from between his fingernails, but he did not complete the evil act by injecting [his seed] into that foreign woman. Therefore, his skeleton was buried [in the Land of Israel] but not his body.

Joseph sold as a slave to Potiphar, the priest of On, in Egypt. Potiphar's wife tried to seduce Joseph, and although he initially demurred, he eventually agreed. As he was about to complete the illicit act of relations, the image of his father suddenly became fixed in his mind, and he relented. He dug his fingernails into the ground in order to control himself, and miraculously, the flow of semen issued from his fingers into the ground instead of issuing into Potiphar's wife. (Gen. 39:7-12; Rashi on Gen. 49:26)

Regarding Moses: he went to the Land of Cush and lived there for forty years, and actually married the wife of the [slain] Ethiopian king, and lived with her [outwardly] as man and wife, as is recounted in the accounts of Moses' life. Even though he did not approach her physically, he was still not buried in the Land of Israel at all, neither his body nor his bones.

The Land of Canaan is associated with the moon….

The Written Torah does not tell us what happened to Moses between the time when he fled Pharaoh's henchmen, at about the age of 18, and when he became Jethro's shepherd and son-in-law, at about the age of 77. There are a few versions in the Midrashim of what happened, but according to the most detailed one, Moses slew the Egyptian in the year 2386, when he was 18 years old. He fled to Ethiopia, where he joined the army and 9 years later was coronated king. This is when he "married" the widow of the previous king of Ethiopia, or "Cush".

He remained king of Ethiopia for 40 years, from 2395 to 2435. In that year, at the age of 67, he left Ethiopia and went to Midian. After the incident with the shepherds at the well, Jethro imprisoned Moses for ten years. Zipporah fed Moses secretly during these ten years, and finally convinced her father to release him. In 2445, at the age of 77, Moses and Zipporah were married, and shortly after had their first son, Gershon. The incident of the burning bush occurred in the year 2447, when Moses was 79 years old. (See Seder HaDorot, s.v. 2386, 2387, 2392, 2435, 2444)

Thus far are the words of the said sage [Rabbi Kalonymus], of blessed memory.

To this, my master added an explanation of this passage [regarding Miriam's accusation of Moses], as follows:

It is stated prior [to this passage] that "Eldad and Medad were prophesying in the camp". (Num. 11:27) Our Sages teach us that they were prophesying that "Moses will die [in the desert] and Joshua will bring Israel into the Land of Canaan" (Sanhedrin 17a) Following this, "Miriam and Aaron spoke" (Num. 12:1) about this matter, and were discussing why Moses should die in the desert before being able to enter the Land. It could not yet have been clear to them that the reason for this was [Moses'] sin with regard to [bringing forth water from] the rock, for this incident did not occur until [37 years later], after Miriam's death, as recounted in parashat Chukat (Ibid. 20:1-13). They therefore concluded that the reason must be that [Moses] fully and legally married a Cushite woman, and therefore he was barred from entering the land, similar to what the above-quoted sage said.

[Having said this,] they then proceeded to rule out another explanation [for why Moses would not enter the Land of Israel]. Namely, as it is written in the Zohar, the Land of Canaan is associated with the moon. Therefore, Joshua, about whom our Sages said, "Joshua's face was like the face of the moon [relative to Moses' face, which was like the face of the sun]" (Baba Batra 75a), entered it. Moses, in contrast, whose "face was like the face of the sun", which expresses a higher level [of spirituality] than the moon [does], did not enter it.

The sun and moon are associated with Zeir Anpin and Nukva, respectively. Zeir Anpin shines with the radiance of the emotional sefirot, which are reflected in Nukva, their means of expression. This is similar to the way the moon reflects the light of the sun. Similarly, Joshua's spirituality - evidenced as the glow of his face - was a reflection of his teacher Moses'.

The Land of Israel, the quintessential "land", is also associated with malchut, inasmuch as heaven and earth are also respectively associated with Zeir Anpin and Nukva.

It thus would appear that Moses did not enter the Land of Israel because he was of a higher spiritual order than it; only his disciple, who was of a lower spiritual order, was "low" enough to enter it.

The Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge are respectively associated with Zeir Anpin and Nukva….

It would follow that [Moses'] denial of entry [into the Land] was to his credit, rather than the result of some lack on his part. [Aaron and Miriam] ruled out this explanation by saying, "Has G‑d spoken only to Moses? Has He not spoken to us, too?" - meaning: "We are on the same level of prophecy as he is; if so, why are we going to enter the Land and he not? Rather, it must not be because of his preeminence but because of some lacking of his that he is not entering the Land, namely, because 'he married a Cushite woman,'" etc., as we have explained. They did not know [at this point] that they, too, would not be entering the Land of Israel.

G‑d then told them that the reason [Moses would not be entering the Land] was indeed because of his preeminence, in accordance with the explanation given in the Zohar. As for their argument that "has He not spoken to us, too?" G‑d told them that it is faulty. For, "If there be a prophet among you [I, G‑d, will make Myself known to him in a vision; I will speak to him in a dream.] This is not so with My servant Moses; [he is faithful throughout My household. With him I speak mouth to mouth; unambiguously, without riddles, so he beholds the image of G‑d. So why were you not afraid to speak against My servant, against Moses?]"(Num. 12:6-8) [In other words,] he alone is "the face of the sun", and therefore will not enter the Land, which is referred to mystically as the "holy moon".

Although Aaron and Miriam were correct that their level of prophecy was higher than Joshua's, it was still not on the level of Moses'.

This is similar to the mystical explanation given in the Zohar [of Moses' words] in the verse, "Is there a tree there, or not…." (Ibid. 13:20)

When Moses sent spies to report on the Land, he told them to see "what [kind of] land it is. And the people who inhabit it: are they strong or weak? Are there few or many? And what of the land they inhabit? Is it good or bad? And what of the cities they live in: are they in open cities or in fortresses? What is the soil like: is it rich or poor? Are there any trees in it or not?" (Ibid. 13:18-20) The latter phrase literally reads: "Is there a tree in it or not?"

Meaning: If the Tree of Life, which is tiferet, known as the "sun", is there, I shall enter it; if not, I will not.

The Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge are respectively associated with Zeir Anpin and Nukva.

It follows from the above that the Arizal, based on the Zohar, holds that it was not because Moses formally married the widow of the Cushite king that he was denied entrance into the Land of Israel, but because he was essentially above its level. He puts Rabbi Kalonymus' interpretation into the mouths of Miriam and Aaron as their supposition that G‑d then refuted.

* * * * * *

Rabbi Shmuel Vital (Rabbi Chaim Vital's son) notes that after Timna became Eliphaz's concubine, she bore him Amalek, the ancestor of the nation that became Israel's archenemy. The Sages state that this was because Jacob, in fact, should have married her. He could have elevated the good in her (evinced by her desire to convert) and thereby nullified the bad in her (that became manifest later as Amalek). Thus, from our Sages words, it appears that Jacob erred by not accepting Timna, while in Rabbi Kalonymus' exposition, it appears that he was rewarded for repelling her.

This inner Amalek derives from our reluctance to answer the challenge….

He resolves this dichotomy by proposing that it would have indeed been preferable for Jacob to marry Timna, even if by doing so he would have forfeited his ability to be buried in the Land of Israel. By preventing the emergence of Amalek, he would have saved his descendants from much suffering and removed an obstacle in the way of the Redemption. (One of the conditions that must be met before the Redemption can occur is that Amalek's descendants must be wiped out.) Not being buried in the Land of Israel would be a small price to pay for this, especially since Moses himself was also not buried in the Land of Israel, and our Sages say that this was in order that he be able to bring the generation that died in the desert to the Final Redemption with him.

If this is true, its psychological implications are far-reaching. We are taught that Amalek signifies the coldness in our relationship with G‑d that comes from doubts that the "inner skeptic" plants in our mind, and the above exposition implies that this inner Amalek derives from our reluctance to answer the challenge of absorbing and elevating the good elements of materiality and foreign culture out of fear of the contamination it will entail. These unredeemed elements of non-Jewish culture later come back to haunt us in the form of doubts and the cultured sophistication that cools off our enthusiasm for holiness.

So, what is better - to insist on ascetic purity of mind, soul, and body, as Jacob did, or to sacrifice purity in order to elevate the non-Jewish world and thereby avoid the doubts and indifference of Amalek? We could propose that Chasidut would answer that Jacob could not have allowed himself the risk of elevating alien culture because the Torah, with its solid anchoring in holy lifestyle and consciousness, had not yet been given. Moses, on the other hand, who represented the Giving of the Torah, could allow himself this risk.

The lesson for us would then be that only to the extent that we are solidly grounded and immersed in the holiness of the Torah and its ways can we allow ourselves the broadmindedness to absorb, include, and elevate the elements of worldly culture that can be, and indeed beg to be, assimilated. If we do not trust the power of the fire of the Torah to burn off the dross of this unrefined raw material, these elements will eventually plague us as seeds of doubt and as a coldhearted attitude in all things holy.

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Shaar HaPesukim and Likutei Torah; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard."

Reprinted with permission from Chabad of California. Copyright 2004 by Chabad of California, Inc. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work or portions thereof, in any form, without permission, in writing, from Chabad of California, Inc.