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Hashem said suddenly to Moshe, Aaron and Miriam “You three go out to the Tent of Meeting.” And the three of them went out. (Bamidbar 12:5)
The above posuk describes the timing of the event with the Hebrew word pisom, which is translated “suddenly.” It is noteworthy that this word is found only twice in the entire Torah. The other instance is with regard to the nazir. The posuk there says, “If a person should die near him (the nazir) unexpectedly, all of a sudden and make his nazirite head impure, he shall shave his head on the day he becomes purified; on the seventh day he shall shave it (Bamidbar 6:9).
It is noteworthy that with regard to the nazir the Torah used a double expression of suddenness, “bi-peshah pisom” whereas here with regard to Hashem revealing himself to Moshe, Aaron and Miriam the Torah uses a single expression of “pisom.” The double expression of nazir connotes a greater degree of suddenness. We may ask why the difference?
The two cases represent opposite situations. The case of the nazir involves a holy individual. The commentators note that the sanctity of the nazir is comparable to that of the kohen gadal. This is seen from the fact that they both share the same laws with regard to whom they may not defile themselves. The posuk proceeds to instruct the nazir what laws he must follow in the event that he suddenly becomes contaminated with the most severe form of contamination, that being corpse contamination.
On the other hand, in our parsha, Moshe Aaron and Miriam are suddenly presented with the opportunity to speak directly with Hashem. Direct communication with Hashem represents an intense degree of spiritual experience.
Both situations are similar in that there was no preparation or warning. The events happened suddenly. The difference lies only in that the suddenness of the nazir was contamination and defilement, whereas the revelation of Hashem to Moshe, Aaron and Miriam was holiness.
In life many events occur suddenly without warning. Some of these events are opportunities for spirituality and others can G-d forbid be the opposite. Although one can not prepare fully for the unexpected, yet one can take precautions in how to deal with these situations if they do arise.
The above contrast of expression suggests that efforts of precautions necessary to protect from situations of defilement are greater than efforts of preparation for spirituality. Defilement may come; “be-pesha pisom,” a double degree of suddenness whereas holiness will only come “pisom,” a single degree of suddenness. This contrast hints that the forces of evil are greater then the forces of good. We need to focus more attention on how to deal with not becoming defiled than with elevating ourselves to higher levels of spirituality.
© Efraim Levine 5761/2001