In this week’s parasha we read about the death of Moses’ sister Miriam. Immediately after the Torah reports her death, we read that the Israelites were without water. This juxtaposition of verses leads the Torah commentators to suggest that Miriam was the reason that the Israelites had water in the desert, and when she died, the water source died with her. This led to the creation of “Miriam’s Well”, a mythical well which accompanied the Israelites on their desert wanderings because of the merit of Miriam, the prophet. But what was it about Miriam that made her so special? And how was she a prophet? We have no record of her speeches. Unlike her brother Moses, we do not find her talking to the Israelites, sending them messages from God. So how was she a prophet, and what did she bring to the Israelite people?
The commentators suggest that Moses taught with words and Miriam brought her prophecy through deed. She was a woman of action, working behind the scenes to make the lives of the people better. At the shores of the sea, after the Israelites crossed to the other side, Moses sings a song of praise to God. But it is Miriam who takes a timbrel and encourages everyone to sing along with her — to dance and rejoice in the glory of God and the miracle at the sea. It is Miriam who allows the children of Israel to truly celebrate their freedom and rejoice. And Miriam provided water, sustenance for them when they needed it most. She walked amongst the people, guided and nurtured them, sustained their souls whilst Moses and Aaron tended to leadership, Miriam led too in her own quiet, determined way. She was brave, courageous and strong. She was kind, compassionate and good. And she was flawed, just like her brothers.
As we look back on her life this Shabbat of her yahrzeit, we remember her and the contribution that women have made to our community and our tradition, giving and helping, each in their own way. This Shabbat, take a moment to celebrate our Judaism like Miriam, freely and wholeheartedly, and rejoice in the beauty of our world; it’s what she would have loved.