Tag Archives: Red Sea

Death of a Leader from a Family of Leaders

 

Image result for gustave dore Pharaoh's daughter

A black-and-white drawing by Paul Gustave Doré of Moses and his brother, Aaron, standing in Pharaoh’s court next to a serpent.

Engravings by Gustave Dore: The Finding of Moses: Moses and Aaron Appear Before Pharaoh

Yocheved and Amram HaLevi must have been exceptional individuals and parents. Their youngest child, Moses, was born at the worst of times when Pharaoh ordered the death of all male Jewish babies. Yocheved hid her newborn son for three months and then entrusted her daughter, Miriam, with ensuring his safety. The three haLevi children, Moses, Aaron and Miriam all rose to become leaders and teachers in their own right.

Together, under God’s guidance, they led and nurtured an entire nation. The prophet Micah wrote, “For I brought you up out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery. And I sent Moshe, Aharon and Miriam before you.” (Micah 6:4). According to the prophet Micah the brothers and sister were sent together to fulfill the role of leading the Israelites.

When I read about Miriam’s death in the Torah reading “Hukkat” I noticed how little attention was given to this great woman’s passing. When I checked  to see how often the three leaders were mentioned in the Torah I discovered that Moses’ name was recorded about 480 times. Aaron’s name appears about 300 times and Miriam’s name appears 10 times. It’s not very surprising. Women are not generally given a high profile in Torah and bible narratives.

art by Laya Crust

Miriam is recognized as an important figure and is called a “prophet”. To understand the strong family connection between Yocheved and Amram’s three children we have to look at the hints given to us in text and then put the pieces together.

Miriam’s baby brother Moses was born at the worst of times when Pharaoh ordered the death of all male Jewish babies. Yocheved hid her newborn son for three months and then sent Miriam to watch what would happen. Miriam intervened when he was found by Pharaoh’s daughter and brilliantly offered to take the baby to a Jewish wet nurse.  The wet nurse was Moses’ mother, Yocheved, and Moses stayed with her for three years until he was weaned. In those three years Moses was not only introduced to Jewish customs and sensibilities, he also interacted with his older brother and sister, Miriam and Aaron. That may explain why he showed no shock or surprise when decades later God told him that Aaron would be his mouthpiece to Pharaoh or why it seemed natural that Miriam was a leader at the Red Sea.

Miriam is often associated with water. Neither Moses nor anyone else were surprised when she led the women in song after crossing the Red Sea.

Miriam leading the Woman in Song- Golden Haggadah

In the Torah we read how Miriam and Aaron gossiped about Moses, criticizing his choice of wife. It was a natural thing for siblings to do – talk about their brother, his good points and his bad points. When Miriam was punished both brothers came to her defense. Moses begged that she be forgiven. God said He had punished her as any father would. Her affliction of tzaarat, and consequent seclusion in a tent sounds almost like a time out. Maybe this was God’s style of “time out”, knowing she needed some space to rest and reflect. One could well imagine that Miriam and Aaron were stressed. Miriam was the wise woman, and an example to the children of Israel, constantly expected to be empathetic and to guide the women. Her beloved people patiently waited for her to heal before they continued on their journey.

Image result for miriam the prophetessMiriam’s Well, Dura Europos wall panel

At Miriam’s death another link between the three leaders is revealed. Miriam’s death is mentioned in five words. There isn’t any mention of the people mourning her. Instead they become angry due to lack of water. God tells Moses and Aaron to speak to a rock, holding Moses’ staff. Moses and Aaron gathered everyone together before the rock. Moses said, “Hear now, you rebels; are we to bring you water from this rock?” He lifted the staff and hit the rock twice. God punished the brothers for not following his instructions by not allowing them to enter the promised land. That is to say they would die before the children of Israel entered Canaan. Indeed, Aaron dies twelve verses after the rock was hit, (Exodus 20: 23 -29).

When Moses spoke to the children of Israel he called them “the rebels” using the word הַמֹּרִיִם.  That word, מֹּרִיִם has the same letters as Miriam. I suspect that Moses and Aaron were so overcome with grief at the loss of their sister Moses unconsciously chose that word.

A leader and a sister of leaders, Miriam died and was buried in Kadesh. It is fitting that she died in a place named “Holiness” because throughout her life that is what she exemplified and taught.

Have a Shabbat Shalom, and let us pray for the craziness in the world to become peace in the world.

Laya

 

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Shabbat Shira- BeShalach

B'Shalach

Miriam’s Song by Laya Crust

This week’s Torah reading is given the name Shabbat Shira- the Shabbat of Song. We read three songs-  Miriam’s song after crossing the Red Sea, Moshe’s “Song of the Sea”,  and Devorah’s song of victory.  Not only do women sing and play music in both the Torah and haftarah readings, they are major figures in these biblical stories.

Miriam is called a prophet in this parsha. She accompanied her younger brothers, Moshe and Aaron, leading b’nei Yisrael to freedom. Miriam was the female role model for the nation. She exemplified strength and leadership and the confidence that God has in the abilities and wisdom of women. After crossing the Red Sea, Miriam led the women with a celebration of song and dance.

h shabbat shiraDevorah and Barak by Laya Crust

 Devorah was a judge and prophet who led the Israelites  for 40 years. She would sit under a palm tree to meet with her people. The haftarah tells of a battle waged by the Canaanites against the Israelites. The Jewish leader, Barak, asked Devorah to lead the battle with him. She warned Barak that a woman would be credited with the victory if she went, but he still insisted on her help.

Maciejowski Bible, ca 1240

Yael, the other major woman in the haftarah was not a Jew, but a Kenite. After the battle Sisera, a general fleeing from the Jews,  sought refuge with Yael. She gave him warm milk to drink, covered him with a blanket, then drove a tent peg through his temple, killing him. The hafatarah is unusual in that it features two women- Devorah and Yael- as the heroic characters.

hallelu 1Hallelu  by Laya Crust

Devorah wrote a song of praise mentioning herself as a mother of Israel, Barak as a leader, and Yael as a heroine. The end of the song is powerful. Devorah described Sisera’s mother waiting at the window for her triumphant son to return home from battle.  Devorah sang, “…The mother of Sisera…moaned…’Why is his chariot so long in coming? Why are the  hoofbeats of his steeds so tardy?…Have they not found spoils and treasure? Have they not divided the prey; to every man a damsel or two; to Sisera many kinds of plunder…?”. Devorah described the scene- a mother waiting for her son- all the while knowing Sisera had been murdered. The mother’s confidence and pride that her son had been successful in killing, looting and abducting the Israelites is disquieting.

The women in the parsha and haftarah showed strength and leadership. God chose Miriam to be one of the three leaders of the children of Israel as they trekked towards freedom. God appointed Devorah and later Hulda to be prophets, and made Yael a hero. We must remember this and take it forward as we progress in religion, culture and politics. 

Have a joyous and tuneful Shabbat,

Laya

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Shabbat Shira- BeShalach

Miriam's Song

Miriam’s Song

Judges 4:4 – 5:31

Devorah (Judge and Prophet)  c.1200 BCE – 1124 BCE

This parsha relates the story of the Israelites’ escape from Egypt and their crossing of the Red Sea. The image at the top of this page shows Miriam leading the Israelite women in song and celebration. They are playing  historical musical instruments with the Red Sea in the background. The piece is inspired by a miniature from “The Golden Haggadah” of 14th C. Barcelona, Spain.

The hafatarah tells of a battle waged by the Canaanites against the Israelites. The Jewish leader, Barak, goes to Devorah asking her to lead the battle with him. She accompanies him, warning Barak that if  she goes  a woman will be credited with the victory.

Devorah was a judge and prophet who led the Israelites  for 40 years. She would sit under a palm tree to meet with her people. Yael, the other major woman in the haftarah was not a Jew, but a Kenite. After the battle Sisera, a general fleeing from the Jews,  sought refuge with Yael. She gave him warm milk to drink, covered him with a blanket, then drove a tent peg through his temple, killing him. The hafatarah is unusual in that it features two women- Devorah and Yael- as the heroic characters. 

Devorah sings a song of praise mentioning herself as a mother of Israel, Barak as a leader, and Yael as a heroine. The end of the song is very evocative. Devorah describes how Sisera’s mother waits at the window for her triumphant son to return home from battle.  Devorah’s composition is haunting, “…The mother of Sisera…moaned…’Why is his chariot so long in coming? Why are the  hoofbeats of his steeds so tardy?…Have they not found booty?Have they not divided the prey; to every man a damsel or two; to Sisera a booty of diverse colours,’…”. Devorah describes the scene- a mother waiting for her son- but we know he has been murdered. The description of the mother’s  expectations- that he has been successful in killing, looting and abducting the Israelites- is disquieting.

This week’s Torah reading is given the name Shabbat Shira- the Shabbat of Song. We read three songs-  Moshe’s  “Song of the Sea”,  Miriam’s song after crossing the Red Sea, and Devorah’s song of victory. Women figure prominently.  Not only do they sing and play music in these Torah and haftarah readings, they begin and end the stories. It is Miriam, her mother, and Pharaoh’s daughter who save and raise Moshe so he can grow up to lead his people to freedom.   Miriam, called a prophet in this parsha, accompanies Moshe across the Sea and completes the crossing with a celebration of song and dance.

Devorah is introduced at the beginning of the haftarah as a judge and prophet. She is instrumental in the battle against the Canaanites, and Yael defeats Sisera. At the end of the haftarah Devorah’s song commemorates the battle and honours Yael.

The stories of these biblical women all show strength and leadership. I found it very interesting that there seemed to be more paintings of Yael driving a spike through Sisera’s head than I found of Devorah or Miriam leading the women in song. One site I found with some great images of the scene from manuscript art is: https://www.blogger.com/. In the image below we see Yael greeting Sisera, driving a spike through his temple, then announcing the act to Barak.

  Maciejowski Bible, ca 1240

There was also an extraordinary photograph by Oscar Wolfman, a Toronto dancer and photographer. This  interpretation of Yael and Sisera is provocative and original.

 

I am interested to hear your views on this week’s Torah and Haftarah readings, and the welcome focus on the role of women.

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