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Taking Tambourines

Taking Tambourines (courtesy)

On the Seventh Day of Pesach, we read the story about the event that took place seven days after the Children of Israel left Egypt and the sea famously split.  The Egyptian army drowned.  Moshe and the Children of Israel sang praises.  Then, immediately following the Shira, in Shemot 15:20 , we are told

Miriam, the prophetess, sister of Ahron, took the tambourine in her hand and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dances. 

This verse poses a few questions;

Where did Miriam get the tambourine from?  When the Jewish people left Egypt, they left in a hurry; the people didn’t even have enough time to bake bread!

There is an overarching assumption that the Torah does not waste words.  So why is Miriam referred to as ‘the sister of Aharon’?  Surely we already know that she was Aharon’s sister?  If Miriam was a prophetess, what was her prophecy? The Midrash Shemot Rabba 1:22 enlightens us

When did she prophesy? When she was (only) Aharon’s sister – before Moshe was born.  She said ‘in the future, my mother will give birth to a son…’ 

During the harsh times under Pharaoh’s rule, before Moshe was born, his parents Amram and Yocheved separated, as they feared if they had more children they would be killed under Pharaoh’s decree.  Miriam rebuked her parents telling them that their decree was harsher than the decree of  Pharaoh – her parents reunited and Moshe was born.

However, when Yocheved put baby Moshe in a basket in the river – she was distraught.

She said to Miriam ‘where is your prophecy now?’

That is the reason why Miriam stood by the river bank, watching over Moshe – not only to ‘stand’ and watch what would happen to Moshe, but to ‘stand by’ her prophecy.

This explains the unusual use of the word vatezazav in Shemot 2:4   denoting  a ‘dual’ form of standing.

….his sister stood (vatezazav) from a distance to know what would happen

Miriam had conviction in her prophecy that Gd would save Moshe and also save the Children of Israel.  She was the ultimate optimist and that is the reason why she had a tambourine with her at the time when the sea split.

Where did she get a tambourine from in the desert? ….the (women) knew that Gd would make miracles; they took their tambourines with them (waiting to use them at the time of salvation)
When the Children of Israel left Egypt, they weren’t even able to finish baking bread.  The women were not concerned about their physical sustenance; they were certain that Gd would provide whatever they needed. Yet, despite the rush, the women took the time to prepare something they felt would be essential…. Tambourines!  Instruments with which to sing and praise Gd for the miracles that they knew would come to be.    At such a difficult time, the women did not lose their vision.  The women found the strength to fortify themselves not to lose hope!

Rav Avira Talmud Sotah 11b informs us that

In the merit of the righteous women of that generation – Israel was redeemed from Egypt 

There have been very dark and gloomy days throughout Jewish history and right now as a nation we are facing many challenges.  We should try to take courage and optimism from the strength of conviction that Miriam and the women in Egypt displayed, clearly showing their faith in Gd.

In the merit of the righteous women may we once again see salvation.

May the redemption come speedily in our days!

Leilu Neshamot Leah, Maya Esther and Rina Miriam

About the Author
Chava is a Community Educator in London and has served as the Scholar in Residence at Hampstead Synagogue and Kinloss. She is a regular speaker at various shuls and private homes. Chava completed an MA in Jewish Education (LSJS and Birkbeck), an MA in Property Valuation and Law (City University Business School) and a BSc (London School of Economics) in Accounting and Finance. She is a Matan Bellows Eshkolot Fellow, an alumnus of Michlalah, and a graduate of the LSJS Bradfield Women's Educators, the Montefiore Scholar Diploma and the Herzog Tanach Teachers Programmes
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