After Moshe and B’nai Yisrael sing “Az Yashir”, the Song of the Sea, we read about Miriam and the women (Shmot 15:20-21): “Miriam the prophetess, sister of Aharon, took the tof (drum) in her hand; and all of the women followed her with tupim uvimacholot (two types of drums). Miriam led them in the response: ‘Shiru (sing) to God for He is most high; horse and its rider He hurled into the sea.’”
According to Chizkuni, the women continued to sing the entire “Az Yashir” with Miriam, not just the first line.
Rabbi Saadya Gaon describes the two types of drums that the women used:
He translates tupim as difduf (drums that you hit by hand) and macholot as tavul (a bigger drum that you hit with wooden drumsticks).
We see the combination of tof and machol listed with the other instruments used to praise God in Tehilim, Psalms 149:3 and 150:4 which we recite each morning: “Let them praise his name with machol, let them sing praises to him with tof and kinor (lyre)”, “Praise Him with tof and machol…”
In the tragic story of Yiftach’s daughter in Shoftim (Judges), after Yiftach defeats Amon, he makes a vow to sacrifice whatever emerges first from the doors of his house. In Shoftim 11:34 we read: “Yiftach arrived at Mitzpe, to his home and behold, his daughter was coming out to him bitupim uvimacholot…” Just like Miriam and the women, Yiftach’s daughter was celebrating the war victory by playing instruments.
Mitzudat Zion defines both tupim and macholot as instruments and he references Shmot 15:20. Radak, Ibn Ezra and Ibn Janah also define machol as an instrument.
As well, we see in Shmuel I, 18:6-7: “It happened that when the troops came back- when David returned from slaying the Philistine (Goliath)- the women from the towns of Israel came out to sing vhamacholot to greet King Shaul with tupim, with gladness and with cymbals. The rejoicing women called out, and said, Shaul has slain his thousands and David his tens of thousands.”
According to the Netziv, the song had many more stanzas that are not listed here and this one verse was just the refrain.
We see from here that the women were singers and drummers when they sang the victory songs after the difficult battles were fought.
Did the women also dance?
Another definition of machol is dance (machol is the word for dance used in Modern Hebrew today). Machol is the most used (thirteen times) out of the nine words that mean to dance in the Tanach.
Aside from the two verses from Tehilim, where machol is clearly referring to an instrument, the other verses above could refer to the women dancing or playing an instrument.
In addition, we see in Shir HaShitim (Song of Songs) 7:1 and at the end of the book of Shoftim that machol was a type of dance that the women used in the vineyards to attract a mate. In Shoftim (21:21) the children of Binyamin were commanded: “Go and lie in wait in the vineyards; and see, and behold, if the daughters come out ‘lachul bamcholot’, to dance in the dances…” References to this dance are also made in the Mishna, Taanit 4:1-2.
The Biblical women were a talented group who sang, danced and played the drums after successful military victories.
May Israel be blessed with a strong successful army and may the talented citizens come out to cheer them on with song, dance and music.