Thursday, March 25, 2010

Miriam

From a young age, the Biblical Miriam was noted for her prophetic voice, declaring that her mother would bear a son who would redeem the Children of Israel (Talmud Megillah 14a). In fact, the Midrash tells us that, after Pharaoh decreed that all male babies be thrown into the Nile, Miriam s parents, Amram and Yocheved, divorced, leading other Israelites to divorce as well. Miriam went to her father and rebuked him, warning him that his actions would lead to the end of all Jewish babies, not just the boys. Amram and Yocheved therefore remarried.

Within the next year, Yocheved gave birth to Moses. Once again, Miriam took an active role in insuring that the prophecy was fulfilled. When the baby was pulled from the river by Pharaoh’s daughter, Miriam boldly offered to find her a Jewish nursemaid (his mom, of course) to help the child survive and thrive.

Little more is heard about Miriam until after Pharaoh finally allowed the Israelites to leave Egypt. In fact, she is not mentioned again until after the Jewish People crossed the Red Sea, when Miriam the prophetess “ ... took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances. And Miriam sang unto them: Sing you to the Lord, for He is highly exalted: the horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea” (Exodus 15:20-21).

Miriam’s greatness is attested to by two important incidents mentioned in the Torah. The first was that she suffered a severe case of tzara’at (i.e. spiritually induced skin affliction) when she spoke harshly about Moses--a rather severe punishment for a seemingly minor infraction. The second was that upon her death (on the 10th of Nisan), the well that had miraculously traveled with the Israelites in the Wilderness, ceased to provide water.

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