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Miriam

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Miriam pretends to find her brother Moses in the bullrushes; a 1900 New Year's postcard from Germany, in Hebrew and English
Miriam pretends to find her brother Moses in the bullrushes; a 1900 New Year's postcard from Germany, in Hebrew and English

Miriam, daughter of Amram and Jochebed, is one of seven female prophets of the Bible, and the sister of Moses and Aaron. She is honored by Jewish feminists for being a strong political figure and speaking out in disagreement with Moses. She passed away on the 10th of Nissan (Hebrew calendar) and was buried in Kadesh.

While the Jews were slaves in Egypt, the order went out from Pharaoh to kill all the male children of the Israelites. Her parents then vowed to have no children, lest they be killed. Miriam convinced them to procreate on the basis that girls will have a chance at life and an afterlife and boys—even if they were to be slain, would also have a place in the eternal afterlife. Her parents agreed with her reasoning and had the boy-child Moses. Moses was placed in a basket to float down the Nile River, in hope that someone else capable of protecting him would find and rescue him. Moses was watched over by his sister, who pretended to find him and presented him to Pharaoh’s daughter, who adopted him. It was Miriam who arranged for her own mother to become Moses’s wet-nurse. After their escape from Egypt, when Moses parted the Red Sea and Pharaoh's army drowned, the Hebrew men and women began to sing praise to Yahweh. The women’s songs of praise and joy outshone the songs of the men because they had the forethought to take instruments with them. When people are fleeing and in such a rush to escape that they cannot even wait for the bread to rise, why would Miriam bother taking musical instruments? Because her faith that a time for celebration would soon come, was unshakable, Happiness can happen at any time and Miriam reminds us to be prepared for happiness even during the depths of our despair. While Moses and the Jews were wandering through the desert, finding water was of utmost importance to their survival. This issue was overcome by the Well of Miriam. According to the Jewish authoritative text, called The Midrash, the Well of Miriam was a rock shaped like a sieve that rolled along, following the Hebrew people on their journey. When they stopped to camp, the rock would settle into the sand and leaders of the tribes would activate it by saying: “Rise up, O well,” Some people believe that the rock did not travel with the Jews on their trek through the desert, but rather a stream of water would simply spring up in each new location. While they were on their journey, Miriam strongly voiced her disagreement with Moses for his hurtful decision to withhold sexual intimacy from his wife, in order to maintain his prophetic state -- and in Jewish tradition to this day, asceticism is considered to be a sin requiring a yearly offering, and women (but not men) are entitled to conjugal rights.

Miriam is often depicted with a tambourine, the instrument with which she led the women in singing "The Song of the Sea" (Exodus 15:1-21), in which she rejoiced after the escape from Egypt. She is associated with sacred waters and wells. The Hamsa amulet is another powerful symbol of protection and blessings associated with Miriam in the Jewish tradition and Fatima in the Islamic tradition.

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