The Shuvah Project #18 — Faith Like Miriam

New to The Shuvah Project? Find out what it is and why it’s necessary.

But Moses said to the people, “Don’t be afraid. Stand firm and see the salvation of the  Lord, which He will provide for you today; for the Egyptians you see today, you will never see again.

-Exodus 14:13 

Section One (Parsha Debrief):

This week’s parsha contained: a brief outline of the route out from Egypt, more info on why Pharaoh pursued, fears of the Israelites, details about why and how the sea parted, Israel’s song, Miriam’s song, details at Marah, details about manna, details about Massah and Meribah, and the Amalekite attack at Rephidim.

In the Midweek Reading Guide, we invited you to focus on Miriam. Specifically, we invited you to think more about a verse that leads Rabbis to ask some good questions.

The verse:

Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women followed her with their tambourines and danced. Miriam sang…

-Exodus 15:20-21a

Rabbis ask… why did Miriam need her own song?

Remember, the preceding eighteen verses were filled with the words that “Moses and the Israelites sang to the Lord (Exodus 15:1-18).” All the Israelites, seemingly including Miriam, just sang praise to the Lord. So, why, right after, does the Text tells us that Miriam sang and danced with other women?

Well, Rabbinic commentary suggests that if we want to understand why Miriam sang her song, we need to understand how Miriam was introduced, and why she was introduced that way.

How was she introduced?

The Text tells us Miriam is a prophetess. But, what did she prophesy?

The Text tells us Miriam is Aaron’s sister. But, isn’t she also Moses’ sister?

When these two questions are taken together they shed light on how the introduction may explain Miriam’s song.

When [Miriam] was the sister of Aaron alone — before Moses was born, she said, “My mother will at some time bear a son who will deliver Israel.”

-Rashi on Exodus 15:20; based on Sotah 12b

When she was not yet the sister of Moses, she prophesied about the birth of Moses.

If we understand the prophecy, we’ll understand the song.

To understand the prophecy we need to go to the Text regarding the birth of Moses.

And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi. 

-Exodus 2:1

The Rabbis of the midrash asked: Where did he go?

Using context they answer: “He went with the advice of his daughter (i.e. Miriam).” But readers aren’t told about any advice she gave. So, the midrash expands to tell a complementary narrative. The midrash fills in the Text gap between Exodus 1:22 (i.e. Pharaoh’s decree to kill every firstborn Hebrew male) and Exodus 2:1-2 (e.g. a marriage and birth of Moses).

The majority of ancient Rabbinic commentaries come to the same conclusion in explaining Exodus 2:1. Here it is…

We have been taught that when Amram, eventually Moses’ father, heard of the decree that all male babies had to be drowned, he divorced his wife so that he would not produce a child that would be drowned. When his daughter Miriam heard of his reasoning, she accused him of being worse than Pharaoh who only wanted to kill male Jews, whereas he would prevent the birth of any Jews if the people were to follow his example. Not only that, she said, Pharaoh deprived the Jews only of life in this world, on earth, whereas her father’s policy would also deprive them of their share in the world to come. Amram saw the logic of his daughter and went and re-married the wife he just divorced.

-Chizkuni on Exodus 2:1

The midrashic narrative is not in the Text you and I hold in our hands. But, an additional commentary gives more credence to the midrashic conversation. The Sifsei Chachamim says, immediately after this marriage she conceived and gave birth to Moses. But, Miriam is already a little girl in the story-line, so she and Aaron must have been born from the first marriage.

Miriam’s prophecy continues to be unveiled.

When she [i.e. Moses’ mother] could hide him no longer, she took for him a basket made of bulrushes and covered it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank. And his sister stood at a distance to know what would be done to him.

-Exodus 2:3-4

Why did Miriam stand from afar?

Again, the midrash provides an answer…

Because Miriam prophesied and said, “In the future, Mother will give birth to a child that will be the savior of the Jewish people.” When Moses was born, the entire house was filled with light. [Miriam’s] father arose and kissed her on the head. He said to her, “My daughter your prophecy has been fulfilled.” Yet, when they put Moses in the river her mother arose and hit her on the head and said to her daughter, “My daughter, where is your prophecy!?” This is why the verse says she stood afar. She wanted to know what would be the results of her prophecy.

-Shemot Rabbah

But none of that is in the actual Text. Correct. The Text only tells us Miriam is a prophetess and the sister of Aaron. Do you have a better explanation for why the Text would introduce us to Miriam this way?

What if young Miriam did prophesy a redeemer?

What if a young daughter did bring her parents back together?

What if a young girl did not give up hope?

What if a sister became the agent of salvation for her brother? — One did.

Young Miriam asks Pharaoh’s daughter “Should I go and call one of the Hebrew woman to nurse the boy for you?”

Mature Miriam witnesses her brother replicate her faith to save a Nation — the fulfillment of her prophecy.

Thus, she sings!

Section Two (Connection to NT + haftarah):

The Rabbis at Aleph Beta helped me realize this: When it was just Moses in the reeds of a river bank, Miriam stood and watched. When it was the whole Nation of Israel at the bank of the Sea of Reeds, Moses asked Israel to stand and watch.

Wouldn’t you know it, the Luke Text describes Jesus as standing by a body of water (Luke 5:1).

And, isn’t the conversation about casting nets really a conversation about having faith (Luke 5:4-5)?

And, doesn’t Jesus tell his disciples not to be afraid (Luke 5:10) just like Moses tells Israel to not be afraid (Exodus 14:13)?

And, aren’t Jesus’ disciples astonished (Luke 5:8-9) just like Israel is in awe (Exodus 14:31)?

Almost as if the author is inviting the reader to have faith like Miriam. 😉

Section Three (missing the mark):

What if the patriarch, Miriam’s father, dismissed his young daughter’s logic and prophecy?

After all, it was critical of his decision.

Would Moses have been born? Would Israel have been delivered?

I wonder how much redemption we’ve missed because daughters of the church have been dismissed, dismayed, or dissuaded.

What do you think pastors?

Section Four (real-world applications):

In addition to the Rabbinic conversation in Section One, Rashi adds important insight for us to think about and apply to our lives.

The righteous women in that generation were confident that God would perform miracles for them and they accordingly had brought timbrels [i.e. tambourines] with them from Egypt.

-Rashi on Exodus 15:20; in Mekhilta d’Rabbi Yihsmael

In the haste of running from their oppressor they packed… their tambourines? For future celebrations?

It’s worth asking… do we have faith, foresight, and confidence like Miriam to pack our tambourines?

Next Week’s Readings: Exodus 18:1-20:23/26; Luke 5:12-16

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