In Parashat BeShalach, we are formally introduced to Miryam for the first time. Miryam is introduced to us during her Shirah, which follows the famous Az Yashir, as the Pesukim relate, “VaTikach Miryam HaNevi’ah, Achot Aharon, Et HaTof BeYadah,” “And Miryam the Prophetess, sister of Aharon, took the drum in her hand” (Shemot 15:20). Why is Miryam described only as the sister of Aharon and not also as the sister of Moshe? Additionally, why is Miryam described as being a prophetess? Lastly, what did Miryam and her fellow Jewish women sing? Rav Shmuel Goldin, in his book Unlocking the Torah Text, lays out the answers of many commentaries.
Rashi (ad loc. s.v. VaTikach Miryam HaNevi’ah) offers a Midrashic approach for our questions. Rashi, quoting the Gemara (Sotah 12b-13a), suggests that Miryam is described as a “prophetess” and as “Aharon’s sister” because she received Nevu’ah before Moshe was born, when she was merely Aharon’s sister. According to the Gemara, before Moshe was born, Miryam prophesized that Yocheved would give birth to the savior of Am Yisrael. Rashi argues alternatively that Miryam is regarded as “Aharon’s sister” because Aharon risked his life for her when she was afflicted with Tzara’at.
Rashbam, Ramban, and Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch offer approaches based on Peshat. Rashbam (15:20 s.v. Achot Aharon) explains that because Aharon was older than Moshe, Miryam was described as Aharon’s sister. Ramban (ad loc. s.v. Achot Aharon) explains that Aharon, Miryam, and Moshe were all supposed to be mentioned in context of the Yam Suf, so this was Aharon’s connection to Yam Suf. Rav Hirsch (ad loc. s.v. Achot Aharon) believes that Miryam is described as “Achot Aharon” because just like Aharon was the intermediary between Moshe and the men of Am Yisrael, Miryam was the intermediary between Moshe and the women of Am Yisrael.
These Meforashim help us understand Miryam’s affiliation with Aharon. However, they don’t really explain why Miryam is called a “Nevi’ah.” Rav Goldin gives a beautiful answer that can teach us a powerful lesson. According to Rav Goldin, the reason Miryam is called a Nevi’ah is that she had an insight into the celebration of Bnei Yisrael.
A one-line excerpt from Miryam’s Shirah provided by the Pesukim is “Shiru LaShem Ki Ga’oh Ga’ah, Sus VeRochevo Ramah VaYam,” “Sing to Hashem because He is exalted, the horse and its rider He threw into the sea” (15:21). The sole difference between this line and the similar line in Az Yashir (15:1) is a single Alef (Ashirah vs. Shiru). Rav Goldin uses this distinction to give a remarkable conclusion. He writes that Miryam was telling Moshe and Bnei Yisrael that while it is great to thank Hashem for saving the entire nation from Mitzrayim, they shouldn’t stop now. Hashem merely “threw the horse and its rider into the sea;” however, He didn’t give the Torah yet, nor did He bring us to Eretz Yisrael. The message to Bnei Yisrael was to continue onwards to Har Sinai and Eretz Yisrael.
As an additional proof, Rav Goldin highlights that only here does the Torah record “VaYasa Moshe Et Yisrael,” “And Moshe caused Bnei Yisrael to travel” (15:22). Usually, Bnei Yisrael merely “travel;” however, because they were so excited about singing and celebrating, they wouldn’t move and therefore needed to be “caused to travel.” Miryam’s song showed the women that they could accomplish both celebration and forward progress. Because of Miryam’s Shirah, Moshe was able to convince and force Bnei Yisrael to move forward.
Inside this amazing explanation is a great lesson. Many times in our lives we accomplish a bit and we celebrate the small completion. It’s true that we should be proud of even the small things; however, we mustn’t stop there. We have to push ourselves to continue to improve. We cannot simply sit in a decent place when we have a higher level to achieve. We must use Miryam as a guide to be happy with what we have done and to look forward to grow even more.