Miriam was Aaron and Moses's older sister. According to some sources, she was seven years older than Moses, but other sources seem to indicate that she was older than that. Some sources indicate that Miriam was Puah, one of the midwives who rescued Hebrew babies from Pharaoh's edict against them (Ex. 1:15-19).
Miriam was a prophetess in her own right (Ex. 15:20), the first woman described that way in scripture (although Sarah is also considered to be a prophetess, that word is not applied to her in scripture). According to tradition, she prophesied before Moses's birth that her parents would give birth to the person who would bring about their people's redemption.
Miriam waited among the bulrushes while Moses's ark was in the river, watching over him to make sure he was all right (Ex. 2:4). When the Pharaoh's daughter drew Moses out of the water, Miriam arranged for their mother, Yocheved, to nurse Moses and raise him until he was weaned (Ex. 2:7-9).
Miriam led the women of Israel in a song and dance of celebration after the Pharaoh's men were drowned in the sea (Ex. 15:20-21). She is said to be the ancestress of other creative geniuses in Israel's history: Bezalel, the architect of the mishkan (the portable sanctuary used in the desert) (Ex. 31:1-3) and King David.
According to tradition, because of Miriam's righteousness, a well followed the people through the desert throughout their wanderings, and that well remained with them until the day of Miriam's death.
Like her brothers, Miriam was not perfect. She led her brother Aaron to speak against Moses over a matter involving a Cushite woman he had married (Zipporah, or possibly a second wife) (Num. 12:1). They also objected to his leadership, noting that he had no monopoly on Divine Communication (Num12:2). For this, Miriam was punished with tzaaras (an affliction generally translated as leprosy) (Num. 12:10). However, Aaron pled on her behalf, and she was cured (Num. 12:11).
Like her brothers, Miriam died in the desert before the people reached the Promised Land (Num. 20:1).
Most of the great women in the Bible either are married to a great man or related to one. Sarah is primarily known as Abraham's wife, and Miriam as Moses' sister. Even Esther, who saves the Jewish people from Haman's attempted genocide, is guided by her adviser and cousin, Mordechai. A rare exception to this tradition is the prophetess and judge Deborah, perhaps the Bible's greatest woman figure.
Deborah stands exclusively on her own merits. The only thing we know about her personal life is the name of her husband, Lapidot. "She led Israel at that time," is how the Bible records it. "She used to sit under the palm tree of Deborah ... and the Israelites would come to her for judgment" (4:4).
During Deborah's time, a century or so after the Israelite entry into Canaan, the valley in which she and her tribe lived was controlled by King Jabin of Hazor. Deborah summoned the warrior Barak and instructed him in God's name to take ten thousand troops and confront Jabin's general, Sisera, and his army's nine hundred iron chariots, on Mount Tabor.
Barak's response to Deborah shows the high esteem in which this ancient prophetess was held: "If you will go with me, I will go; if not I will not go."
"Very well, I will go with you," Deborah consents, but she can't resist gibing at Barak about the sexism of their society. "However, there will be no glory for you in the course you are taking, for then the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman" (4:8-9).
The battle takes place during the rainy season, and Sisera's chariots quickly bog down in the mud. The Israelites overwhelm Hazor's army, and inflict heavy casualties. Sisera, fleeing on foot, escapes to the Kenite camp, where Yael, the clan leader's wife, invites him to stay. He falls asleep in her tent, whereupon Yael lifts a mallet and drives a tent peg through his head.
The famed "Song of Deborah," in chapter 5, exults in the breaking of the Canaanite stranglehold over much of the country: "So may all Your enemies perish, 0 Lord," is Deborah's parting shot, though the true Jewish victory went even deeper than the destruction of Sisera and his chariots. According to the Talmud, Rabbi Akiva, one of the greatest figures in Jewish history, was a direct descendant of Sisera, That a descendant of this great enemy of the Jews became a great Jewish rabbi and scholar represented the Jews' ultimate victory over their ancient Canaanite opponent.
1. Run around the group having sets of 3 games of rock-paper-scissors tournaments with people.
2. When a person wins, the person who they beat becomes part of their cheering squad. This continues until there are only two players left, both with large cheering squads. Winner of the final match wins the game.
3. Shabbat twist - Instead of rock, paper, and scissors, use challah, challah cover, and Kiddush cup – challah cover beats challah (covers it), challah beats Kiddush cup (knocks it over), Kiddush cup beats challah cover (spills wine on it).
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Prepared by Lauren Gross
Program Title: Parsha Time: Tzedakah
Subtitle: Source Text for Tzedakah Text Study (Parshat Re’eh)