At the tender age of six, Miriam saved the life of her brother Moses. When male Hebrew newborns were condemned to death in Egypt, her brother was put in a floating casket on the River Nile.
Miriam hid by the banks of the Nile to see what would become of him. When Pharaoh’s daughter came to wash in the river, she was overcome with pity for the crying child. She was sure that baby was a Hebrew, for if not, why else would it have been thus abandoned?
Miriam sprang into action and offered to find a Hebrew mother to suckle the child. That mother was none other than their own, Yocheved, the wife of their father Amram.
Miriam re-emerges years later as the proud sister of Moses, redeemer of Israel. She led the women in song by the seashore after the crossing of the Red Sea.
Miriam is one of a limited number expressly named a prophet in the Torah. In Judaism, spiritual attainment is open to men and women, and Miriam is one of seven prophetesses who were given messages by Divine communication.
Miriam and her brother Aaron were punished by God for criticising their brother Moses for having married a non-Semitic Cushite woman.
Moses had married twice and on neither occasion had he married an Israelite. God inflicted Miriam with leprosy for speaking about Moses behind his back.
God reiterates that it is Moses’ loyalty to Him that mattered, not whom he married.
This teaches that it is none of our business to criticise people’s private lives and not mix racial prejudices into religious values.
Out of respect for Miriam, the people waited until she was healed before
ω Ariel is rabbi of Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation and Ecumenical Chaplain to the Forces, Merseyside Army Cadets