I’ve always loved Miriam.
It wasn’t just my identifying with the vicissitudes associated with being the older sister of brothers, nor was it even with the young vivacious girl in me that wanted to be at the front of the line leading with drums, songs, and dreams of redemption. I don’t even think it was the midrashic image of her arguing with her father, who, the greatest scholar of the generation, recognizes the wisdom in the words of his young daughter, and, on her account, makes a 180-degree policy reversal.
No, it was something about her fortitude, her hope, her freedom in the depths of slavery that pulled at my heart strings. Something about the water, the well, about digging deep in the dark and clutching onto the bucket praying, dreaming, knowing that life will emerge from the echoes of obscurity.
It was her obstinance — וַתֵּתַצַּב אֲחֹתוֹ, מֵרָחֹק — to stand strong and look far- towards the horizon — the point at which I see no more, but know that there is more.
To be able to lift one’s eyes in the midst of the storm, even when faced with the world’s worst and most evil acts ever to have been perpetrated by mankind, and see the light emerging in the distance. To find water in the well, music in bitterness, life in death — this is Miriam.
This is not belief in a happy ever after. This is not finding good in every bad. No, its not that. Its acknowledging that life is indeed bitter. That evil indeed exists. That even the paragon of democracy can at any moment come toppling down. That medicine is not always the cure. That life is not ideal and that there are things even worse than death.
It is knowing all of this and still choosing life.
Choosing to have children, choosing to dream of redemption, choosing to wake up in the morning and feel the weight of the world on our shoulders and STILL take those small steps of responsibility towards fixing it. It is having the courage to move beyond our comfort zones and confront the daughters of Pharaohs without thinking of our own survival because there are some things larger than our own existence. It is belief in our own individual strengths and visions of a better tomorrow. It is having the sense of purpose to find some followers, and transform them into leaders — not for them to parrot your song, but for them to find their own song, to which you can respond.
וַתֵּצֶאןָ כָל-הַנָּשִׁים אַחֲרֶיהָ, בְּתֻפִּים וּבִמְחֹלֹת. טו,כא וַתַּעַן לָהֶם, מִרְיָם:
And all the women went after her – and Miriam answered their song.
With a lightness of step and instruments of joy, gratitude seeping from their very being — in their merit we were redeemed.
I love these woman. I love their leader. We need a Miriam today.
We need a leader who will sing us into redemption. Not through miracles and spectacles, not through empty rhetoric and futile promises, but through a quiet ruthless pragmatism and unadulterated optimism. Who will uncover the hidden waters bringing spiritual sustenance to a generation that no longer believes. Who will look at reality and choose to see it in another way — not through denial, dissent, or mutiny, but through creating modest role-models who know how to inspire through joy and gratitude. Who understand that even in the midst of unbearable suffering and despair, we always have the choice of hope and the power of life.
Miriam — mar yam — the bitter waters — the bitterness of life — that you redeemed — that you Miriam, made sweet. How much we have to learn from you.