Miryam - Chesed and Emunah

Sotah (1:9) | Yisrael Bankier | 15 years ago

Towards the end of the first perek we learn that HaKadosh Baruch Hu both punishes and rewards measure for measure. One example brought is that of Miriam:

[This principle applies] also for reward. Miriam waited for her brother for one hour as it says “and his sister was stationed (va’teitatzav) from afar” (Shmot 2:4); therefore Am Yisrael waited for her in the desert for seven days, as it says “and the nation did not travel until Miriam was collected” (Bamidbar 12:15).

The Gemara comments, that this case demonstrates that while punishments are indeed measure for measure, rewards are disproportional and increased.

It would appear from a simple reading of the Mishnah that Miriam’s waiting resembled her care and concern for the welfare of her brother. This in turn was rewarded through Am Yisrael waiting for Miriam to recover from her affliction of tzara’at, itself a demonstration of the nation’s concern for her welfare.

Another Gemara (Sotah 13b) suggests that Miriam had a different motive:

Miriam was a prophetess, and she prophesied saying,: “My mother is destined to bear a son who will be the saviour of Yisrael.” When Moshe was born, the entire house was filled with light, where upon her father said to her: “My daughter, your prophecy has been fulfilled.” And when Moshe was thrown into the Nile, he said to her: “My daughter what has become of your prophecy?” This is the intent of “And his sister stood from afar to know what would be done with him” – to know how her prophecy would materialise.

From the above Gemara, Miriam’s waiting for her brother was presumably faith driven. It would therefore initially appear that Miriam’s strong faith, expressed by her waiting for her brother, was rewarded with Am Yisrael waiting for seven days; an act of compassion. While the outward appearance of the act and reward appear to correspond with each other, there appears to be a mismatch in the underlying motivations of the act and reward. While some may rightly feel that this is not problematic, we can suggest that being rewarded ‘measure for measure’ aligns on every level.

In order to do this one can suggest that Miriam indeed had both motivations in mind when waiting for her brother. The full pasuk cited in the Mishnah is as follows:

And his sister was stationed (va’teitatzav) from afar; to know what would happen to him”

On the one hand she was driven by faith, simply “to know what would happen to him”. Yet she was also ‘stationed’ – a deliberate stand of solidarity and care.44

Therefore the original assumption that the nation’s waiting for Miriam to heal was a reward for her compassion, can be maintained. Yet for this understanding of Miriam’s reward being measure for measure to be complete we must locate where she was rewarded for her undying faith in wanting “to know what would happen to him”.

One could suggest that this element of Miriam’s act was also rewarded. After Am Yisrael crossed the and was saved from the Egyptians, they broke out in song. At the end of the shira we find the following (Shmot 16:20):

Miriam the prophetess, Aharon’s sister, took the drum in her hand, and all the women followed her with drums and dancing.

Rashi explains the reference to Miriam being a prophetess by quoting the Gemara cited above. Perhaps it is precisely relevant, after Am Yisrael were saved, to mention her credentials here as she is rewarded in leading the women in praising Hashem. For it was that prophecy that led to her undying faith - the faith which manifested in her following her brother at an apparently hopeless moment, to “know what would happen to him.”

44 The two parts of the pasuk, as described here, are indeed divided by an etnachta, a cantenation that resembles a break in a pasuk. Furthermore, it is only the first half of the pasuk, the half that has been described as referring to her care for her brother that was cited by the Mishnah further reinforcing that the Mishnah is referring to “stationing” as being rewarded by Am Yisrael waiting for her.


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