Exodus 13:17 to 17:16
Often after reading information, one has more questions than answers. This is the case with this week’s text. Why do the Israelites complain so much? If Miriam is so important, why is there so little information about her?
The Israelites finally escape from Egypt; they celebrate with the famous Song at the Sea. After the men sang praises to God, Miriam led the women in song and dance…. We repeat part of this song in every worship service through the Mi Chamochah prayer.
As the Israelites proceed, they begin to complain. They complain about a lack of water – God provides water…. They complain about food – God provides manna…. Again, they complain and complain…. From this point on – all through Exodus – it seems as if the people are always complaining. One gets the idea that the book of Exodus could also be call the Book of Kvetching.
This week, rather than commenting on the text we read, I would like to comment on what we don’t read in the text. I have two questions regarding this week’s text … and some ideas that could explain these omissions.
• First, God showed his power with the Ten Plagues …. dividing the sea so the people could cross the water … destroying the Egyptian army …. And when the people were thirsty, God provided water …. When they were hungry, God gave them manna…. Yet the people kvetch and kvetch and kvetch… Why don’t the people realize God is with them and cease their continuing kvetching?
• Second, Miriam comes forward to lead the women in song and dance after God enabled the people to cross the sea and escape the Egyptian army. Miriam is called a prophet and is known as a major force in the early history of Israel….. Yet, in Torah, she is only mentioned in five brief passages …. 1) Miriam stands near as Moses is rescued from the Nile by Pharaoh’s daughter. She also suggests Moses’ mother as a nurse for the baby (Ex 2:4-10) ….. 2) Miriam leads the women in song and dance after crossing the sea (Ex 15:20) …. 3) The longest passage – and least favorable to Miriam – Miriam gossips with her brother, Aaron, about Moses. God punishes her with a skin disease (Num. 12-1-13)…. 4) Miriam’s death is covered with a single verse. (Num. 20:1) …. 5) In a listing of the Levite tribe by clans there is a listing of Amram and Jochebed (daughter of Levi) who had three children Aaron, Moses and their sister Miriam. (Num. 26:59)…….If Miriam is so important, why isn’t there more information about her and her achievements?
This week my comments will attempt to answer them these two questions.
First, why the continued kvetching?…. I see the story of Exodus as the birth and growth of the Israelite people.
In Egypt the Israelites lived together in a single community without real direction. As the text states… They lived with a “slave mentality.” Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt and slavery. He leads them through a narrow path of dry land in the Sea of Reeds. I compare this to a birthing channel of a living person. A baby emerges on the other side. Like a baby, this people with its “slave-mentality” needs constant direction …needs to be lead (cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night) … needs food and water (God provides both water and manna).
As the baby grow it takes on more responsibility. At the end of this week’s parsha the Israelites take on battle against an aggressor … with assistance from God. As weeks go on we will see greater responsibility. We will also see a maturing of the people through acceptance of the laws presented by God. At the end of Deuteronomy the Israelites are ready for the responsibilities of adulthood and a life on their own without the constant assistance of the Eternal.
So, we are reading a story about the birth of a people and how it matures… And, about the kvetching… Isn’t this what is expected of infants?
With regard to Miriam… She is an important part of Jewish history. Yet, in Torah she receives a minimum of actual text… even though she is called a prophet.
Actually, all through Torah the role of women is down-played. So, it is not surprising to see Miriam’s role kept to a minimum. She was important enough to be included… but, with minimum emphasis.
If one looks at the role of women in general, not much is stated in Torah. There are many laws…. but, many apply to men only – women are exempt. Actually, tradition tells us that men are bound to obey all positive time-bound commandments, while women are exempt. (Men say prayers morning and evening – women are exempt. … Men are commanded to make offerings to God at certain times of day and days of year – Women are exempt) …. All positive non-time bound commandments, both men and women must follow (Honor your father and mother). …. All the negative commandments must be followed by both men and women.(Do not murder … Do not steal … Do not work on Shabbat)
By not being bound by positive time-bound commandments, women have more time to take care of household chores and raise the children. This would be difficult if all commandments were to be followed. This means that women have a real obligation which isn’t directly stated in Torah… that of household management. This is only implied, but never really stated in Torah. It seems that all the laws are written by men – for men. So, it is with Miriam. It is known that she had an important role for the women of the community. She was their leader, educator, and advisor. It seems that the men who edited the Torah realized this…. But, didn’t want to show a woman as a great leader. However, Miriam was a real leader. She had to be included. So, unfortunately, this inclusion was kept to a minimum. I would have liked to learn more about her and her ways. This would have been useful information for both men and women.
Two unanswered questions…. Sometimes one can learn much about an issue by what is unstated.
The art titled “Thinking why character shows reflection and cause” courtesy of Stuart Miles appearing on FreeDigitalPhotos.net