Torah Reading for Week of January 5-11, 2014
“Planning for the Future with Confidence”
By Dr. Joel Gereboff, AJRCA Professor of Bible and Rabbinics
“Hear what the Lord is saying, ‘My people, I brought you up from the land of Egypt, I redeemed you from the house of bondage, and I sent before you Moses, Aaron and Miriam.’” (Micah 6:1-4)
R, Yose b. R. Judah says, “Three good leaders had arisen for Israel—Moses, Aaron and Miriam, and for their sake three good things were given: the well, the clouds of glory and the manna. The first was given for the merits of Miriam, the second for those of Aaron, and the third for those of Moses.” (b. Ta. 9a)
Although we generally think of Moses as the leader who brought the children of Israel out from Egypt, the above biblical and rabbinic statements appear to assign equal importance to the actions of all three siblings, Moses, Aaron and Miriam. Here I would like to focus on the actions and character of Miriam for they reveal traits that we all should emulate.
The story of the Exodus is framed by Miriam standing by the water. The Exodus commences with Moses’ sister standing near the reeds (suf) by the edge of the river to see what would become of her brother Moses who had been placed in the river in a basket, and the Exodus culminates with Miriam inviting the women of Israel to join her in a song of gratitude for the deliverance at the Sea of Reeds (yam suf).
According to the narrative (Ex. 2:4-10), it would appear that Miriam in the scene by the river took the initiative to see what would become of her brother. The Torah does not state that she had been asked by her parents to undertake this task. Moreover, when she hears Pharaoh’s daughter who had opened the basket proclaim, “This must be a Hebrew child,” she leaps forward and suggests that she would go and fetch a Hebrew nursemaid to suckle the baby. And who does she bring? Her own and Moses’ mother. Miriam here displays leadership qualities of initiative and resourcefulness.
When we next meet Miriam (Ex. 15:20), she has picked up a hand-drum and with all the women goes forth to dance and to sing a song of praise for their having been delivered at the sea. But let us compare how the Torah describes the actions of Moses and Miriam upon their having safely crossed through the sea.
Moses is described as follows: “Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord. They said, ‘I will sing to the Lord for He has triumphed gloriously…’” (Ex. 15:1). The report about Miriam differs somewhat. It reads: “Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, picked up a hand-drum, and all the women went out after her in dance with hand-drums. And Miriam chanted for them, ’Sing to the Lord for He has triumphed gloriously…’” (Ex. 15:20-21). What strikes me is that while Moses and the men only use their voices to sing, thereby expressing their spirits, Miriam and the women offer a full- bodied celebration, singing and dancing. She and the women praise the Lord with their voices, their hands and their feet. As we would say, at the direction of Miriam, they put themselves fully into their actions.
A final lesson can be gleaned from a question and a comment of the early rabbis, on the above text, that appears in the Midrash on Exodus, Mekhilta. The rabbis ask, “Where did the Israelite women get hand-drums in the wilderness?” They answer this question by claiming, “These righteous women were confident and knew that G-d would perform miracles and mighty deeds when they left Egypt, so they prepared hand-drums.” (Mekhilta Shira 10). Unlike the men who doubt Moses and G-d even before they cross through the Sea (Ex. 13:11-14) and continue to do so throughout the journey through the wilderness even after having been delivered from Egypt and from the Sea, Miriam and the women while already in Egypt were confident of G-d’s protection throughout their upcoming travels, and on their own took the initiative to plan ahead. They left Egypt with their hand-drums, and when Miriam leads them, they join with her in full bodied celebration.
May we in the coming years have trust in G-d, confidence in ourselves, and take the initiative to be prepared and plan ahead as we journey forward in our lives.