And Miriam called out to them: Sing to the L-rd, for very exalted is He; a horse and its rider He cast into the sea.
— Exodus 15:20-21
Whenever I hear the Bette Midler song “The Wind Beneath My Wings,” I think of biblical characters such as Miriam.
“Did you ever know that you’re my hero?” Midler sings to a person in the shadows but without whose support she could not have succeeded.
Likewise, Miriam’s support was critically important for the success of Moshe’s mission. Without it, G-d forbid, we may not have even had a Moshe Rabbenu.
Even as a young girl, Miriam was wise beyond her years. She encouraged her own parents not to give up on the future in the face of Pharaoh’s cruel decrees. She waited to see what would
become of her brother, Moshe, in the basket by the Nile. And it was Miriam who led the women in songs and praises to G-d after the splitting of the Red Sea. The Midrash says that a miraculous well of water followed the Israelites throughout their wanderings in the desert in the merit of Miriam, and that it dried up after her passing.
Throughout her life, she always had the ability to take a bitter situation and find within it, the seeds of hope and consolation. She was able to sustain herself, inspire others to trust Hashem and to hope for better days.
Like the well in her merit, Miriam was herself a wellspring, a constant and ever-renewing source of nurturing and support. She loved and respected her people. And they, in turn, returned those feelings. She supported them with her vision of life and faith.
In this week’s Torah portion of Chukat, Miriam died and the people thirsted for water. No wonder. Her well had dried up. Moshe went to the rock and attempted to bring forth water out of it.
Miriam’s life was one of great devotion. In her, the Torah paints a picture of an inspiring leader who gave selflessly to others, enabling them to “fly higher than an eagle” and to live by their faith.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)