I can only imagine what the children of Israel experienced after they left Egypt. They barely had time to process that they were free only to turn around and find their worst nightmare realized. Pharaoh had a change of heart and decided to chase after them. I can sense the panic as the children of Israel found themselves trapped between the Reed Sea and all of Pharaoh’s fierce horses and chariots racing toward them.
Confused, angry, let down, they start screaming at Moshe. Then Hashem miraculously splits the sea, clearing a path for their escape while drowning all the Egyptians and their horses. It was only at this moment that the people trusted that their nightmare was indeed over. Ecstatic and inspired by the event they break into song. A song so powerful and meaningful that we have been repeating it daily for thousands of years. Immediately following the “Az Yashir” we are formally introduced to Miriam as it is written,
Miriam, the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women came out after her with timbrels and with dances. And Miriam called out to them, Sing to the Lord, for very exalted is He; a horse and its rider He cast into the sea.
Why does it say that here that she’s a prophetess if she isn’t prophesying, but merely repeating the song the nation already sang?
Why does she only sing the first line? What about the rest of the song?
Miriam “the prophetess”
In Sotah 12b-13a it says Miriam received a prophecy that her mother will bear a son who would be the savior of Israel. She believed all along that the Jews would be redeemed and she put forth her best efforts to ensure it’s actualization. It was due to her rebuke that her parents got back together after separating upon the decree of Pharaoh to kill all the male infants. After this reunion, they gave birth to Moshe. Miriam followed baby Moshe while he was in the basket to ensure that he would be taken care of. She was convinced that the redemption was imminent and that Moshe would lead the people. The rest of Israel, who were not prophets and still maintaining a slave mentality couldn’t shake the fear and doubt until they witnessed the total demise of their slave masters. Only then did they completely believe and rejoice in song.
Miriam called out to them, “Sing to the Lord, for very exalted is He; a horse and its rider He cast into the sea”
There are various opinions that say that Miriam sang the entire song despite the fact that the text only records her singing the first line. Either way, whether she sang the entire song or just this one line, there is a point being made. It was this pivotal event of the horse and the rider being cast into the sea that led Israel to finally affirm the veracity of Miriam’s prophecy, and therefore the impetus for her dance.
Prophets break out into song when witnessing the realization of a goal. This was the moment she waited for her entire life. Miriam always knew Hashem would redeem the Jewish people and she knew Moshe would be the one to do it. She expended much effort during her life trying to motivate, encourage and convince the people to believe it too and while they knew they would be redeemed they had always harbored an element of doubt. It was not until they were able to achieve closure by seeing with their own eyes the total demise of their taskmasters that they knew they were truly free and broke out in heartfelt song. Miriam was at the ready with drum in hand and began to sing and dance once she saw not only the fruition of her prophecy but witnessed the nation finally acknowledging Hashem’s omnipotence with Moshe as His faithful servant leading the nation. How glorious this must have have been for Miriam! She must have danced with a joy that permeated her entire being upon witnessing the nation’s moment of epiphany coupled with the fulfillment of her propitious prophecy.
It is said that those who truly believe and wait for the messiah will merit seeing his arrival. Just like Miriam, we will sing and dance as we see the remnants of evil perish from the earth whilst everyone will recognize and declare His name. We will join together in gladness of song – a new song that will be everlasting and lead us to eternal bliss of peace and goodness for all people.