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A Woman. A Lover. A Human Being.

In this week’s Torah Portion, #Balak, Kozbi is introduced and then murdered within the span of three verses. In this Midrashic Monologue, we explore her story and excavate her voice.


My name was Kozbi.

I was a woman. A princess. A lover. A human being. A Midianite.

I met a man, Zimri, when a group of my kinspeople joined camps with the Israelites in order to visit with our cousin, Zipporah.

His people would be the end of me.

Almost immediately after our arrival, our men were treated to the hospitality for which the people of Zipporah’s husband were famous.

The children we had brought with us were absorbed into the herd of youngsters who had the run of the camp and who spent their days adventuring and exploring.

Those of us who were neither men nor children were not as lucky.

Instead of loaves of bread, comfortable seats, or immediate companionship and camaraderie, we were offered only fabric with which to cover ourselves.

The older women of our party seemed resigned and dutifully swathed their shoulders with the Israelite’s linen.

When the wife of Pinchas approached me, fabric in her arms, I thanked her politely but declined her offer.

I explained to her that I had dressed in the colors of the goddess, Asherah, as a way of honoring the Israelites who I had learned followed Asherah’s consort, El.

I told her how I had bathed and chosen my apparel carefully as a sign of respect for our hosts and our shared beliefs.

I kept to myself the harshest of my thoughts: that wrapping myself in the dirty linen she offered me would be an insult to the gods.

But she did not listen, thrusting the fabric at me and ignoring my explanations.

Embarrassed by her desperation and uncomfortable with her intensity, I tried to return to the safety of my sisters, but the wife of Pinchas followed me, attempting to drape the fabric over my shoulders even as I moved away from her.

Finally, I reached the limit of my tolerance, whipping around, throwing her wrap on the sands, and telling her forcefully that she should leave me alone because I had no need of what she was offering.

Her eyes were hard and hateful as she turned and walked away from me.

I watched as she whispered to her husband who had been waiting in the entrance of their tent. When he turned to look at me, his eyes glowed like embers in a long-simmering fire.

I shook myself and returned to the gathering of my people, sharing the details of my encounter only after surrounding myself with my kinswomen.

After I finished speaking, one of the older women laughed and said, “Their concern makes sense doesn’t it? These people have changed El’s name to Adonai and have thrown away the idea of his partner, Asherah. Their god is male, celibate, alone, and lonely. The Israelites lack the knowledge that the goddess would have granted them. In their minds, male power populates the heavens, and so, they believe, female power must be born from the opposite realms. Sisters, tonight we will make an offering of gratitude to Asherah for teaching our people so much.”

The next time I saw Pinchas’ eyes, he was standing over me and over my lover, Zimri, as our blood rushed into the sands of the wilderness.

He spat at us and proclaimed, “Your worship has profaned our camp. Your death is better than your idolatry.”

But as I reached over to clutch my Zimri close, listening as he took his last breaths, I heard the message that reverberated underneath Pinchas words. I knew that despite his lofty proclamation, he was actually telling me and those like me, “Your actions have upset the delicate balance of our power. Your death is better than your challenge.”

My name was Kozbi.

I was a woman. A princess. A lover. A human being. A Midianite.

I refused to cover and to hate the body that the gods had given me.

I refused to allow veils to dim the light that came from me.

I refused to allow any person to tell me that I should be hidden away.

I was blamed for their violence, but it was their fear that was the end of me.


For more information about Asherah, visit the Jewish Women's Archive by clicking HERE.


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