Former Shaliach in Melbourne
“The daughters of Tzelaphchad… drew near…” (Bamidbar 27:1)
In this week’s parsha, Tzelaphchad’s daughters famously request that their father’s inheritance remain within their family. This story testifies to the caliber of these women, and, indeed, Chazal refer to them as:
“Wise and righteous women.” (Bamidbar Rabah 21:11)
Moreover, Chazal use this opportunity to praise all the women of that generation:
“In that generation, the women would close the gaps which the men had breached. As you can see, Aharon told them, ‘Remove the earrings of gold which are in the ears of your wives.’ (Shmot 32:2) But the women were not willing, and they protested against their husbands, as it says, ‘And the entire nation removed the earrings of gold.’ (Shmot 23:3) And the women did not participate with them in the Sin of the Golden Calf. And similarly, with respect to the spies who issued an evil report – ‘they returned and provoked the entire assembly against him’ (Bamidbar 14:36) – and a decree was decreed against them, because they said, ‘we cannot go up.’ (Bamidbar 13:31) But the women were not in their plot, as it says above, ‘For Hashem said to them, they will surely die in the wilderness, and no man was left of them but Calev the son of Yephuneh.’ (Bamidbar 26:65) Man and not woman, because they did not want to enter the Land. But the women drew near to request an inheritance in the Land. Hence, this incident is recorded next to the death of the generation of the wilderness. Because it was then that the men breached, and the women closed the gaps.” (Ibid 10)
One of that generation’s most distinguished women was Miriam HaNeviah, Moshe and Aharon’s sister. Chazal (Tanchuma Bamidbar 2) teach that she was one of the “three redeemers” and that Bnei Yisrael were granted the well in her merit.
The Targum Yonatan demonstrates another, important side of Miriam
“‘And I sent before you Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam.’ (Michah 6:4) – And I sent before you three prophets: Moshe – to educate and transmit the laws; Aharon – to atone for the nation; and Miriam – to educate the women.”
In addition to being a leader and a prophetess, Miriam was a teacher and an educator. Her unique approach to education and outreach was manifested at Kri’at Yam Suf. The Torah states that while the men sang with Moshe, Miriam led the women in song and dance:
“Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aharon, took the drum in her hand; and all the women came out after her with drums and with dances. And Miriam called out to them: sing to Hashem…” (Shmot 15:20-21)
In spite of her prominence and stature, Miriam was deeply connected to the women of Israel. Rav Moshe Tziv Neriah writes that this was not the only time that she danced and sang with them. Rather, she did so at each one of their family celebrations. Thus, she became close with them and drew them near to her. She fostered warm, personal relationships with them, and in this way, her teachings touched their very souls.