Mistress of Faith
Adapted from Parasha U’Pishra by Rabbi Moshe Grylak
Translated and Adapted by Braha Bender
Miriam used to prophesize, “My mother will have a son who will redeem Israel from Egypt.” When Moshe (Moses) was born, the house filled with light. Her father told her, “My daughter, your prophesy has been fulfilled” (CITATION NEEDED).
Parashas Chukas watches as the nation accompanies Miriam, Moshe’s sister, to her eternal resting place.
Miriam stood beside the cradle of redemption in Egypt. One conversation with her father changed the path of our history. In hindsight we can say that never did so many owe so much to just one woman.
In Egypt, despair clung to the people. Hopelessness lured even the leaders to poisonous conclusions.
Amram (Aharon, Miriam, and Moshe’s father) was a leader of his people. When he heard of Pharaoh’s decree that “every boy that is born will be thrown to the river” (Exodus 1:22), Amram declared, “We are toiling for naught.” He divorced his wife; everyone followed his lead and divorced their wives.
His daughter said, “Father, your decree is harsher than Pharaoh’s! Pharaoh decreed against the boys alone, but you have decreed against both boys and girls.”
So Amram returned to his wife, and the people followed and returned to their wives. (Tractate Sotah, 12)
Objectively, perhaps Amram was correct. He knew what was going on. The Jewish slaves lived with no hope and no light, and he decided to facilitate their end. His fellow slaves agreed with him, and stopped having children. They would not propagate this misery any longer. They would not bring children into the world to meet their death by drowning or beating.
But Miriam was different. She saw beyond the slaves’ filthy huts and the darkened horizon. She tended a candle of faith, and though its light was pale and weak, the spirit of prophecy fed it within her. She fed her father’s anguished heart with the sure promise of her prophecy, planting within him the hopes of a better tomorrow. Despite the black, cold night, dawn would break with a glorious sunrise.
“Isn’t your decree worse than Pharaoh’s? Despite the degradation, the slaughter, and the slavery, we must continue,” she argued to him.
Amram accepted her heartfelt words and returned to his wife; Moshe, the savior of Israel, was born of Miriam’s faith.
The next time we read about Miriam, she is facilitating her vision of redemption once again.
Miriam used to prophesize, “My mother will have a son who will redeem Israel from Egypt.” When Moshe (Moses) was born, the house filled with light. Her father kissed her on her head, and said, “My daughter, your prophesy has been fulfilled.” When they took the baby to the river, her father rapped her on her head, and said, “My daughter, where is your prophesy?”
But Miriam did not forsake her faith. She was not swayed by her father’s doubts.
“His (Moshe’s) sister stationed herself at a distance to know what would be done with him” (Exodus 2:4). Miriam still believed in her vision of salvation, and she hid to observe how it would come about. (Sotah, 12)
Her infant brother floated in a papyrus basket between the cattail reeds. As his flimsy cradle was buffeted by the currents, Moshe could have died or been injured in numerous ways. Miriam waited, wondering how he would be saved. She wasn’t worried about his probably death or injury. No, she was entirely sure he would live: she had dreamt about his great future many a time. But she was curious: how would it come about? Who would be the Almighty’s messenger to save him?
We all know the happy ending. An Egyptian princess hears Moshe’s cries and finds the floating cradle. Miriam appears at the right moment to offer the princess the services of a Jewish wet-nurse. She brings her mother – Moshe’s mother – to care for him under the auspices of all the riches of the palace. Eventually the young adult Moshe leaves the palace in compassion for the nation’s beleaguered slave race, escapes to Median, and is summoned by the Almighty in a burning bush to go back to Egypt and redeem His people.
But Miriam’s story takes places behind the scenes years before the Almighty sends her younger brother to challenge Pharaoh. The process of redemption that later gains miraculous momentum grows out of the spark of hope that Miriam planted and nurtured: a hope that prevented the devastated nation from self-destructing.
The traveling water well that sustained the Jews in the desert existed in Miriam’s merit. The merit of the woman who did not let go of her vision and who, when the time was right, opened her cupped palms and revealed the light to her people, nurtured the fledgling nation with fresh water for years to come. Her sweetness, through the sweet words of her place in Torah, continues to nurture us today.