Parashat Beshalach : Miriam, The Perfect Counterpart – Judith Fogel
“There were three good benefactors of the Israelites, Moshe, Ahron, and Miriam. In their merit three gifts were granted to the people, the manna, the cloud and the well. The well was given by virtue of Miriam and when she died it was withdrawn. As it says (Bamidbar 20), `And Miriam died there’ and immediately afterwards, `And there was no water for the congregation to drink.'” (Talmud Bavli, Taanit 9a)
Commentators attribute these gifts as “payment” for the contributions given by these leaders to Bnei Yisrael. We know that Moshe was the political leader of the Jews that left Egypt and that Ahron was their spiritual leader. But how does Miriam fit into the trio? What was her leadership role? The first clue is given in this week’s parasha:
“Then Miriam the prophetess, Ahron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hands and all the women went out after her in dance with timbrels. And Miriam chanted for them: Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; Horse and driver He has hurled into the sea.” (Shmot 15:20-21)
Miriam’s need to sing Az Yashir again so that the woman could participate illustrates Miriam’s ability to unite the nation and her keen insight, the two traits that made her a leader in her own right. The women felt something missing after Bnei Yisrael sang Az Yashir. Miriam seized the opportunity to fill the space with song and dance.
Our introduction to Miriam in the Torah proves this point:
“And his sister stationed herself at a distance to know what would befall him.” (Shmot 2:4)
Rav Hirsch notes that the pasuk uses the word לְדֵעָה as opposed to the word לדעת. Rav Hirsch explains that לדעת implies a motive of curiosity, whereas לדעה – the noun form – implies an intention to “use knowledge obtained for every possibility of further rescue.” It is not chance or circumstance that brings Miriam to the river that fateful day, rather a strong desire to safeguard her younger brother and improve his situation. Sure enough, as soon as Bat Pharoah takes the baby out of the water, Miriam is there to suggest calling a Hebrew wet nurse to feed Moshe. Once again Miriam uses her talents to unite a mother and her son.
Similarly, the gemara in Sotah (12a) recites the following:
“…Amram was the leader of his generation when Pharoah decreed to cast all the baby boys in the river. Amram said, it is futile to have children; he divorced his wife and all of Bnei Yisrael did the same. His daughter [Miriam] said to him: Your decree is worse than Pharoah’s! He only decreed against the boys – you will cause that also girls will not be born! Pharoah’s decree is only in this world – your decree also affects the world to come…Amram remarried his wife and all of Bnei Yisrael did the same.”
Even at a young age, Miriam uses her keen insight to express her concern with the survival and the unity of the Jewish People.
The well, Miriam’s gift, is a mirror of her character. The well, in addition to providing water, unites the people. This aspect of a well is demonstrated time and again in the Torah: Yitzchak (through the servant Eliezer), Yaakov, and Moshe all met their spouses at a well.
Ahron, however, was also a rodef shalom and is famous for creating unity among the fledgling Jewish Nation, as well. What distinguishes Miriam, though, is her acute understanding of the needs of the given situation and her ability to craft suitable solutions; an attribute not always exhibited by Miriam’s brothers.
Unlike Moshe and Ahron, the Torah never mentions Miriam’s husband or children. Rather, it is the Midrash that tells us that Miriam married Kalev. In Divrei Hayamim, the pesukim state:
“Kalev, son of Chetzron, fathered children by Azuva, his wife, and Yeriot and these are her children: Yeshe, Shovav, and Ardon. When Azuva died, Kalev married Efrat, who bore him Chor. Chor begot Uri and Uri begot Bezalel.” (Divrei HaYamim I, 2:18-20)
Based on this pasuk, the Midrash (Shmot Rabbah, Parashah Aleph “Vayehi Ki”) establishes a connection between Kalev and Miriam through a long and complicated proof. Moreover, the Midrash ascertains that Miriam and Kalev are the great grandparents of Bezalel, the great artist of the mishkan. Of Bezalel it is written that “Hashem filled him with wisdom and discernment (binah) in everything he did” (Shmot 35:31). Bezalel was able to be creative within the boundaries that G-d gave him. With only simple instructions Bezalel was able to create the mishkan and its pieces exactly the way Hashem intended. By connecting Bezalel to Miriam, the Midrash implies that Miriam is a source of Bezalel’s intuition.
David HaMelech, another descendant of Miriam’s and an ancestor to the future mashiach, was also known for his binah:
“One of the attendents spoke up, ‘I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehmite who is skilled in music; he is a mighty man of valor, a man of war, who understands a matter…’” (Shmuel I 16:18)
At this point in the story in Shmuel I, Shaul is looking for a muscian; that David” understands matters” is irrelevant. The Navi is taking the opportunity to stress this important characteristic of binah, intuition or discernment.
It is this trait that allowed Miriam to take advantage of the various challenges that arose. Furthermore, her character was the perfect compliment to Moshe and AhAhron, making her a leader on par with her brothers and worthy of Hashem’s gifts. And as for her lashon harah about Tzipora, Moshe’s wife, I have a different theory about that, as well, but it will have to wait for Parashat Beha’alotchah. Until then, Shabbat Shalom.