Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The end of the triumvirate

This past Shabbos, I posed the question: if Moshe and Aharaon were told that the reason they were barred from entering E"Y and were to die in the midbar, why did Miriam have to die? My husband searched around a bit and found:

ג] ותמת שם מרים, זו מתה בלבד מכל
 הנשים שיצאו ממצרים, שלא מתה אשה
 במדבר, שנאמר (יהושע ה, ד) כל העם היוצא
 ממצרים הזכרים כל אנשי המלחמה מתו, ולא
 הנקבות, תו למה מתה מפני הבאר שנתנה
 בשבילה שלא היה אפשר לה שתהא קיימת והבאר
 שנתנה בזכותה מסתלקת. דבר אחר, מפני שהיא
 שוה למשה ולאהרן בגדולה, ששלשתן היו
 פרנסים טובים לישראל, שאינו בדין שיסתלקו
 ומרים קיימת לכך קדמה תחלה ומתה.
  (מדרש אספה)

To translate: Miriam was the only one among the woman who left Egypt who died. None of the others dd , as we learn from the verse in Yehoshua, which tells us that all the nation that left Egypt died. The males, all who went to war died, and not the female. She died before the well that was in her merit was removed, for it was not possible for the well not to remain if she were gone. Another reason is because she was the equal to Moshe and Aharaon in [spiritual] greatness, for the three of them were the good sustainers for Israel. And it would not be right that the two brothers would be removed, and Miriam would remain. Therefoer, she was taken first.

The first part stresses that Miriam's death is even more remarkable because no other woman died in the midbar.   Her death, then, is not attributed to any misdeed on her part bu to necessity -- rather utilitarian, or should I say Vulcan, as the needs of the many outweigh that of the one. Here the Israelites' need to transition to another stage with new leaders and without the miraculous well outweigh the individual's  life.  She dies for the greater good. One positive note: the latter view stresses her place as the leader for the Israelites, and just as her brothers would be removed from their positions, so would she.

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Monday, June 17, 2013

Jane Austen on Mr. Right

Though Elizabeth is the heroine that most Austen readers love to identify with, most will not be int her situation. The overwhelming majority of women will not get to marry the equivalent of  Mr. Darcy, nor should they. Jane Austen is fully aware that not all marriages will made of matches that appear quite that light an bright and sparkling. As a realist, she offers different models for marriages. While some are from ideal, as featured in Pride and Prejudice, Austen shows that a match need not be spectacularly impressive to be right. 
There are other marriages that work out quite well for people who know how to recognize that Mr. Martin is not just "good enough" but really the right man to marry and don't delude themselves into thinking they will get Mr. Knightley.  What makes the relationship between Darcy and Elizabeth work is not that he has the most money to offer, but that she learns to appreciate his integrity and realizes that she can trust him.
The theme is also present in Persuasion. Anne learns that she was wrong not to trust in the man she refused under the influence of others, years earlier and gets a second chance to marry her equivalent of a Mr. Martin. In Sense and Sensibility, Marianne realizes the Willoughby could not be trusted, while old, dependable Colonel Brandon can. Trust is also at the center of Mansfield Park. Fanny (irritating though she may be to many readers) is unerring about who is the right man for her; she has a sense of whom she can trust.

An alternative title to this is "Why marry Mr. Martin?" The inspiration is an article I read a long time ago in graduate school entitled,  "Why marry Mr Collins?" Mr. Martin is the farmer whose proposal  Harriet rejects under the influence of Emma, who is convinced that Harriet can do better by marrying a man of greater status. The woman who marries Mr. Collins, on the other hand, has no delusions about her prospects because she not only lacks money, but even the youth and good looks that Harriet can boast of. At 27 , Charlotte will seize any matrimonial opportunity to have a respectable establishment of her own.
While Emma herself succeeds in marrying the most prosperous gentleman in the novel, Harriet does get to marry the right man in the end for her, as well, and is quite happy. Unlike Mr.Collins, he is a man she can feel respect and affection for. Certainly, there is no suggestion that she would contrive to keep him out of her sight and hearing for most of the day as Charlotte does for her husband. It is not a spectacular match, but a good, solid one. Perhaps I should call it a sensible one, for it has something in common with the match that Marianne Dashwood learns to accept in Sense and Sensibility.

For more on relationships in Jane Austen, see

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