In the Torah portion for Chukat, Miriam, our “national kindergarten teacher”, the one who took care of us from childhood to independence, passes away.
First, Miriam risked her life to delivering the Israelite children in Egypt. The Torah says that she had “a fear of G-d”: Despite Pharaoh’s decree, she displayed faithfulness to her own values, in opposition to a threatening ruler. Rashi describes how she used to appease and calm the newborn babies and made their childhood years in Egypt pleasant, out of concern especially for the education of the younger children. Later, Miriam stands on the bank of the Nile and watches over little Moshe in the ark. In those historic moments she is not only a babysitter, she makes sure that the boat named “Am Israel” will sail in the right direction. Later, in the Exodus from Egypt, Miriam leads the women in the Song of Miriam, with a tambourine (in Hebrew: Tof Miriam, Miriam’s drum) that stars until this day in kindergartens. Our commentators explain that this was her educational way throughout her life: to transmit messages through experience, singing and dancing. Miriam also teaches us a lesson about the evil tongue, when she is afflicted with Tzara’at after gossiping about Moshe Rabbenu. And now in this Portion, a moment after she dies, the Torah describes how the People felt a sudden thirst. This is a physical thirst, but also a spiritual one, for her calming, comforting presence.
In memory of Miriam, and in prayer that we will merit to have such educators and only such educators, for ourselves and for our children.