Miriam, Spiritual Mother of Israel: Wellspring of Inspiration
by Ariella Bracha Waldinger
Sunday night, March 29, 2015 (10th of Nisan) is the anniversary of the passing of the amazing Prophetess Miriam, who was the sister of Moses, the greatest prophet that ever lived and Aharon, the High Priest. Although Miriam is not considered to be one of the Immahot, she is considered to be the “Spiritual Mother” of the Jewish people. It was truly Miriam who awakened HaShem’s mercy upon her children, since she was the “Spiritual Mother” of the Jewish people in Egypt. Although Moses and Miriam were equal in their greatness (Chatam Sofer HaChadashim, Parsha Beshalach, P74), Miriam was superior in her own realm of influence in that she possessed the attribute of motherly mercy.
It was Miriam who protested to her father, Amram after he divorced his wife, saying that it was wrong and they should remarry. Amram consented to the wisdom of his daughter’s words and remarried his wife and the rest of the Jewish people followed accordingly. It was Miriam who uttered the long awaited prophecy that her mother, Yocheved would soon give birth to the child who would redeem the Jewish people from their servitude. Miriam thereby prevented the despairing Jewish people from destroying themselves with a decree that was far worse than that of the evil Pharaoh.
Miriam is identified as a midwife who helped deliver the Jewish babies. She spoke lovingly and calmly to soothe the crying infants. A midwife is one who enables life to enter into this world. Life can be actualized through actually giving birth or through aspects of birth, such as giving hope and strength. She gave the Jewish people the hope and strength that would support them throughout the bitter years of exile, years of spiritual and physical affliction. She instilled within our nation the inner strength to endure the hardships in every generation, until the arrival of Moshiach. It was also her merit that wiped away the tears of suffering from her people, who were compared to children.
The Torah tells us that when the infant Moses was placed in a small basket on the Nile, it was his sister Miriam who stood guard over him, and watched him from the banks of the river. It was she who brought about his salvation by arranging for the king’s daughter to hire his own mother as his nursemaid. According to the teachings of the Biale Rebbe, he explains that by saving the intermediary through whom the Torah was delivered to the Jewish people, Miriam was indirectly responsible for the waters of the Torah that flow among the Jewish people. It was as if she had re-dug the wells that the Avot had dug, from which the wellsprings of Torah originated, thus preparing the world for the Five Books of Torah. Thus, the Well of Miriam, which is the well of flowing water that followed the Jewish people in the desert, was created in HER MERIT and with her passing it disappeared.
In Hebrew, the word well is a feminine noun and represents human effort. A well is created by digging which alludes to searching for G-d, for spirituality. The well personifies the teaching of arousal from below to above because through the digging process which is the search for G-d, we can find Him, thereby increasing His presence into the world. The Midrash states that Miriam’s merit brought the gift of the well to the Jews in the desert. This is teaching us that she had the ability to search for G-d in all situations, despite adversity. We find that Miriam’s role, during her entire lifetime, was to purify the Jewish people which was also represented by the miraculous spring. The water itself symbolizes the life-giving waters of the Torah, through which all spiritual and material blessings flow. In fact, before the Arizal initiated his primary disciple, Rav Chaim Vital, into the study of Kabbalah, he led him to the well of Miriam, where it now rests in the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) in the Holy city of Tiberias.
In the inspirational book titled, “The Reward of the Righteous Women” by the Biale Rebbe, he gifts us with a profound teaching on the depth of the greatness of Miriam the Prophetess. “Our Sages compare the death of Tzaddikim to the burning of the red heifer (Para Adumah).” The mitzvah of parah aduma was a purification process practiced during the time of the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple). A perfect red heifer was slaughtered, its carcass burned, and the ashes were mixed with water drawn from a spring. The water was then used to purify a person who had become impure through contact with a dead body.
Just as the red heifer atones for our sins, so too does the passing of tzaddikim (righteous men and women). We see from this, according to the Biale Rebbe, that the Torah portion describing the death of Miriam was placed in conjunction to the portion describing the mitzvah of the red heifer (Moed Katan 28a). Why did the Torah choose to compare Miriam’s passing to the Para Aduma (red heifer)? Because it brought about the element of purification that is a necessary part of atonement. In other words, her passing paralleled the powerful purification process of the Para Adumah.
The Chatam Sofer writes that Miriam was equal to both Moshe and Aharon in the specific area in which she excelled (Yalkut Shimoni, Vayera). Her greatness was due to her superior wisdom, which she dedicated to the Jewish women and children, inspiring and guiding them to build homes that would be worthy of nobility and priesthood. The possuk in Shemot 15, states that Miriam possessed the ability to inspire everyone around her to come close to HaShem. She inherited this gift from her great grandmother Sarah. According to the Biale Rebbe, Miriam was able to inspire all the women to joyous prayer and thanksgiving. It was Miriam the prophetess who, after witnessing the miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea, took a tambourine in her hand and led all the women in song and dance. (Shemot 15).
The book further states that Miriam’s passing was compared to the Para Aduma since she was the also the wellspring of faith (Emunah) for her entire generation and for all generations to come. The righteous women who left Egypt were outstanding in their faith and trust in G-d. They stood firmly against the pressures of the Egyptian exile, and gave strength and encouragement to their families so they could withstand the harsh tests of servitude. Our sages teach us there were two different causes for the redemption from Egypt: One was in the merit of the righteous women, and the second was in the merit of faith (Emunah). It was the steadfast EMUNAH of the righteous women that influenced the entire generation, bolstering their faith in HaShem’s ultimate salvation and thereby causing their Redemption.
This awesome level of faith symbolized by the Para Adumah, is a “decree that we are forbidden to question.” It is meant to purify and uplift us to great levels of faith. Thus, just as the waters of the para aduma purify us, so too simple faith keeps us pure as it allows no room for skepticism. The Jewish people draw their pure and simple faith and their ability to persevere from Miriam, and the righteous women in every generation. It is wholehearted faith that protects us from the doubt and skepticism that could otherwise plague us. The Biale Rebbe states, “Miriam stands in heaven to ensure that the Redeemer will indeed arrive to redeem us, no matter how distant this seems. Miriam teaches us through every aspect of her life, that the cornerstone of each and every home will be the righteous women of the past, present and future who live with faith and trust in G-d.”
“The role of the woman is the highest and most distinguished of them all. She stands vigil over that which Hashem holds most precious in the world: the sanctity of the Jewish home and children. To this end, Hashem granted them extraordinary powers of influence, greater wisdom and perceptive insight, enabling them to instill purity, holiness and single-minded dedication to their father in heaven within the home.” The Biale Rebbe.
And so we learn much from Miriam, THE SPIRITUAL MOTHER OF ISRAEL: WELLSPRING OF INSPIRATION to last us a lifetime.
Friends, please take time this Sunday night, the 10th of Nisan to light a candle for Miriam Ha’Navia and to reflect upon the legacy that she has left for us to follow. May we merit to create our own well-springs of purity, purpose, and dedication to the ideals of Miriam—a Holy Jewish woman.
With love and blessings, Ariella Bracha