Seventh day Pesach

By Maureen Kendler, April 24, 2008

“Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her in dance with timbrels”
Exodus 15:20

This is clearly Miriam’s moment! It is the first time in the Torah Miriam is referred to as “a prophetess” and named in her own right, not as adjunct to her family members.

Her song of praise that accompanies the dance begins confidently and assertively with the triumphal “Sing to God!” Although her song is shorter than Moses’s, its energy and confidence is uplifting. Whereas Moses begins with a slight hesitation, “So, they sang to God”, Miriam’s outstanding characteristic here is her sureness: “Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously; horse and driver He has hurled into the sea.”

Rashi extends her lack of doubt in the successful outcome of the Exodus to the Israelite women in general: “the righteous women of that generation were confident that God would do miracles for them; so they brought drums with them from Egypt”.

Yet the Talmud describes Miriam merely as “the sister of Aaron”. Rabbi Nachman explains this was because when she prophesised that her parents would give birth to a redeemer of Israel, she was then only the sister of Aaron. When Moses was born — and “the house was filled with light”— her father kissed her head approvingly. But later, when Moses was to be thrown in the Nile, her father tapped her head and reproved her: “Where is your prophecy, my daughter?”

Rachel Elior, the contemporary expert on mysticism, comments that the Talmud demotes Miriam’s definitive prophetic moment to a familial, private incident where she is both praised and upbraided by her father as a little girl, rather than as the adult heroine who raises her celebratory voice in the public arena.

Could it be that the Talmudic ban on women’s singing in front of men may have been influenced by rabbinical tradition being more comfortable with the former picture?

Last updated: 12:55pm, June 2 2008