Jukat 5777 – English

By Rabbi Daniel A. Kripper
Beth Israel – Aruba
This Parashah marks the transition between the generation of the Exodus and the generation that will enter the Land of Israel. 
In the final days in the desert, the Torah describes the death of Miriam and the subsequent events that took place during that time. 
What is said about Miriam is very little compared to the abundance of stories on the other central characters of the biblical saga, such as Moses, Aaron or David. This should not surprise us, given the patriarchal culture that prevailed in those times. 
When we encounter Miriam for the first time, her name is not even mentioned. She is just the sister of the small boy that was left in a basket on the Nile.

Miriam saved Moses from death in the waters of the Nile. This was her providential role and her action as a saviour. 
The second time we do not see her name either. She is mentioned as the older sister of Moses and Aaron. Only after the exodus from Egypt, after crossing the Red Sea, does she appear as someone who brought joy to the people of Israel, as the verse describes:
“Miriam, the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women came out after her with timbrels and with dances. And Miriam called out to them: Sing to the Lord, for very exalted is He; a horse and its rider He cast into the sea.” (Exodus 15:20-21)
It is interesting that the text gives her the title of nothing less than a ‘prophetess’, something that was not that common at the time nor in later times…
She lived during a time when the Israelites lived in Egypt as slaves and Pharaoh had decided to kill every baby boy born to them. Miriam was the oldest daughter of Amram and Yocheved.
The Talmud names her as one of the seven main prophets of Israel. The Torah describes her, along with Moses and Aaron, freeing the Jews from exile in Egypt: “For I brought you up out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam” (Micah 6:4). According to the Midrash, just as Moses brought out the men from Egypt and taught them the Torah, so did Miriam for the women and taught them the Torah. 
After describing Pharaoh’s decree and the refusal of the midwives to obey it, the Torah tells us: “A man from the house of Levi went and married a daughter of Levi” (Exodus 2:1). The sages explained that this refers to how Amram remarried Yocheved and that the word ‘went’, in another superfluous way, refers to the fact that by doing so, Amram was following the advice of his daughter Miriam. The details of this beautiful legend are:
Because of the decree to throw all baby boys into the Nile, Amram (who was the leader of his generation) decided that in those conditions it was unthinkable to have more children and divorced his wife. Other men followed his example. Miriam criticized her father telling him, “Your decree is more severe than Pharaoh’s; his is only against boys, yours is also against girls; his is only for this world, yours applies also in the next; his can be ignored and not executed, yours offers no possibility.” Amram accepted this reprimand and remarried his wife, so other men followed his example. When Amram remarried Yocheved, he sat her on the nuptial throne and Miriam and Aaron dance in front of her, while the angels announced the birth of Moses singing, “The mother of the children will rejoice.”
The wise counsel of young Miriam did not only make all the children of Israel remarry and defy the criminal decree, but according to the midrash, even at that young age, she had the gift of prophecy. After Miriam convinced Amram to remarry Yocheved, she prophecized, “My mother is destined to bear a son who will save Israel.” Thus, the Torah states about Yocheved: “The woman conceived and gave birth to a son,” and when Moshe was born, the house was full of light and Amram kissed Miriam on the forehead and said, “My daughter, your prophecy has been fulfilled.”
Another legend tells us that in merit of Miriam, a miraculous well accompanied the children of Israel during their long travels to provide them with water in the desert. This is known as Miriam’s Well. Let us remember that Miriam’s name is associated with water: the Nile, the Red Sea, and that even her name means “salt water”, perhaps in remembrance of the bitter days of slavery in Egypt. The water represents generosity, reflection of her abnegated and kind soul. It is not strange, then, that after her death, the well disappears and the people clamour for water with greater vehemence. 
Today, inspired by feminist groups, on Seder night, the traditional glass of wine for the prophet Eliahu is accompanied by a glass of water in memory of Miriam’s Well. It is a worthy homage to a woman who was a loving source of life and an example for generations. 

Rabbi Daniel Kripper

Beth Israel Aruba