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Separating from the nation's nanny

Translation by Yehoshua Siskin

It's the end of the school year and, as we separate from those who guide and care for our children, it is appropriate that we read a Torah portion about separating from our nation's greatest caregiver, nanny, and female mentor, Miriam the prophetess. What can we learn from her?

Miriam risked her life in order to be a midwife to the Hebrew babies in Egypt. The Torah says that she possessed fear of God. Despite Pharaoh's order to kill the babies, she remained true to her values in the face of a threatening regime and did not comply with its decrees.

But side by side with her uncompromising strength, she could be soft and comforting. Rashi describes how, despite the hostile Egyptian environment, she would calm and soothe the babies and keep the children amused and happy, with special concern for the youngest among them.

Later, Miriam was the one who stood on the banks of the Nile and watched over little Moshe as he floated in his basket. In those historic moments, she showed that she was not just a babysitter, but someone who would take charge and make sure that the "Am Yisrael" ship sailed in the right direction.

In the Exodus from Egypt, while the "Song of the Sea" (Shirat HaYam) was sung, Miriam led the women in dance with the same drum that takes center stage today when kindergarteners in Israel dance in remembrance of what Miriam did when the sea split. Our commentators explain that this was Miriam's way of educating and mentoring throughout her life: to transmit her message through participatory experience, through song and dance. Ultimately, these are the educational experiences that are seared into the soul and last throughout the years.

Miriam also taught us about lashon hara (insulting speech) when she was stricken with tzara'at (a skin malady) after speaking negatively about Moshe Rabbeinu.

And in parashat Chukat, immediately after Miriam passes away, the Torah relates that the people are suddenly overcome by thirst. It's both a physical and a spiritual thirst --a thirst for Miriam's calming and comforting presence.

In memory of Miriam, praying that we will merit mentors like her, both for our children and for us.


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