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The Life of Miriam

Authors: Jo Milgrom and Yoel Duman


Miriam, the sister of Moses, appears in only four narrative scenes in the Torah: the saving of baby Moses (Exodus 2), the Song of the Sea (Exodus 15), the confrontation with Moses (Numbers 12) and her death (Numbers 20). In addition, her name alone appears in genealogical lists in Numbers 26 and I Chronicles 5. In Deuteronomy 24 her confrontation with Moses is cited as a warning regarding leprosy; and in Micha 6, she is named together with her brothers as a leader of the Exodus and Wanderings.
This paucity of reference to Miriam seems strange. Midrashic tradition loves her and connects her repeatedly with life-preserving water sources in the desert, even those that occurred after her death. Modern feminist critics and readers have continued this tradition in an attempt to rescue Miriam from near oblivion, instituting the custom of the Cup of Miriam.
In looking at works of art on Miriam, we find that the most popular scenes are the saving of Moses and the Song of the Sea. Very few treatments of the confrontation scene were created before modern times and no artistic renditions of Miriam’s death are to be found. We will examine the artistic and literary interpretations of each of these scenes chronologically, in order to see how attitudes toward Miriam have changed over time and in various cultural and religious contexts. As opposed to many other biblical personalities, there is no Muslim art on Miriam, possibly because of the conflation of Miriam the sister of Moses with Maryam, the mother of Jesus, evident already in the Quran.


The Rescue of Moses

We first meet Miriam in the rescue story of Moses. The persecution of the Israelites has led his mother to place her newborn child in a basket in the Nile, preferring to leave his fate to chance rather than to Pharaoh’s murderous henchmen. His sister watches from afar to see what will happen. When the baby is discovered by Pharaoh’s own daughter, the sister appears and offers to procure a Hebrew wet nurse and the baby is delivered miraculously to his own mother. Moses’ sister and mother (Miriam and Jochebed) are as yet unnamed in the biblical scene, as are all the other characters, who are mainly women.

The earliest extant painting of this scene, from the synagogue of Dura Europos, features Miriam and Jochebed as the Hebrew midwives, Shifra and Puah (Exodus 1:15).



This identification is already found in the tannaitic midrash halacha, Sifre (Behaalotcha 20). Why does the midrash and why does the Dura artist adopt this identification? It seems possible that Miriam’s biblical role in the saving of Moses was seen as problematic, since it is minimal: she merely waits and watches and then steps in to reintroduce her mother into the story. But this act of grace has no apparent effect on the continuation of the story; after weaning Moses, Jochebed disappears and Moses grows up in the royal palace. We know nothing of his childhood or his national consciousness. But Miriam does restore the bond between mother and child, so emotionally satisfying to any audience. By identifying her as one of the midwives, she becomes even more significant – a veritable savior of Israel.

The next treatment of Moses’ rescue is from the Via Latina catacombs in Rome, dating from the 4th century.



Most scholars identify the left figure of the trio as Pharaoh’s daughter, by her “crown”, her extended arm and her ladies-in-waiting. They identify the very large figure to the left as Miriam. However in comparing the iconography in much later renditions of the same scene,


The Golden Haggadah, ca. 1320

it appears to us that the large figure is Pharaoh’s daughter and the “crowned” figure is her personal servant or “amah”, who is sent to fetch the child. Thus, the catacomb painter cleverly combines both traditional Jewish understandings of “amah” in Exodus 2:5:


When she [Pharaoh’s daughter] saw the ark amongst the reeds,
“she sent her servant” or “she stretched out her arm”
to take it.


The weakness of our argument is that there is a gap of a thousand years between the catacombs and the several 14th century haggadot that use this model. On the other hand the similarity of iconography is remarkable. The upshot of this analysis is that Miriam is not in the catacombs painting. This makes sense considering the Christian approach to Miriam we will see next.


The painting below is from an Italian bible moralisee of the 14th century, juxtaposing the biblical account and a Christological interpretation.


Bible Moralisee, ca. 1350


The captions above and below (not shown here) identify all the figures. Most important to us are the typological identifications of Miriam and pharaoh’s daughter. In the upper tier, Miriam stands at a distance concerned about the fate of the baby. In the next panel pharaoh’s daughter performs her saving role. In the lower tier, Miriam is identified as the Synagogue, which has abandoned Moses=Jesus. The daughter of Pharaoh is identified here as the Church, which has adopted him.


This typology goes back to the 2nd century church father, Origen, antedating the Catacombs. Since this commentary on the roles of Miriam and Pharaoh’s daughter was current at the time of the Catacombs painting, it seems possible that Miriam was not seen as a significant or inspirational part of the biblical scene, strengthening the identification of the large figure as Pharaoh’s daughter.


At approximately the same time, the so-called “Hispano-Moresque” haggadah has an entirely different interpretation of the rescue scene.



Hispano-Moresque Haggadah, ca. 1300



Here, we see a transfer of baby Moses, set within an elaborate frame, alluding to the prominence of animals in Egyptian religion. His sister Miriam and mother Jochebed receive the infant from Pharaoh’s daughter, to be nursed and cared for until his weaning. The Hebrew women stand opposite the Egyptian woman and they are separated by Moses’ ark, now on the shore above the Nile. Miriam is a bit shorter than Jochebed and her head is uncovered – indicating her youth. While Miriam stands on the periphery of the picture, her hand on Jochebed’s back is assertive – she is the agent, uniting mother and child.

Some two hundred years later, medieval manuscript painting has given way to the realism of Renaissance Europe.



P. Veronese, c. 1580


Veronese’s rendition of the familiar biblical scene luxuriates in a rich, colorful, courtly landscape. It’s the same baby that has been found, but there’s a whole crowd witnessing. Pharaoh’s blonde and bejeweled daughter is being advised by a finely dressed lady-in-waiting, while a dwarf, an African and several plainly dressed women surround them. It appears that Jochebed and Miriam are placed at the picture’s center: Jochebed is the older woman, dressed in blue and holding the baby’s swaddling; Miriam stands, once again, behind her, but simply looks on. This Miriam, although at the center of the action, is literally “behind the scenes”.
Johan Eduard Ihlee’s 19th century rendition of the scene is frankly kitsch.


Johan Eduard Ihlee


In a pseudo-Egyptian background, the beatific daughter of Pharaoh – alluding to the Virgin Mary – stands central, arms open to receive this new presence. The significant element in this picture is Miriam, standing close enough to assess what’s going on and to plan her next move. She is half-naked and dark, differentiating her from the refined Egyptian ladies and perhaps evoking a dusky Indian maid.
Portraying Miriam in this way seems incongruous, but may simply be the artist’s way of picturing “the other”.
The British Jewish painter Simeon Solomon chose a moment in the story not represented by any of the other artists: Jochebed and Miriam prepare to place Moses and the ark in the Nile in order to save him.


S.Solomon, 1860


The text describes the baby as healthy and that they can no longer hide him from Pharaoh’s decree. The detailed composition of the basket, in which they will place him, seems to be a foil for the emotional state of the mother and sister, who pray for God’s grace. Solomon focuses on their love and anxiety.


Our final example on the finding of Moses is that of Marc Chagall.


M. Chagall, 1965


The interesting facet of this token painting is that two women are crowned here: naturally pharaoh’s daughter and curiously Miriam, “standing from afar to see what would become of him.” Once again, the varying understandings of “amah” are referenced by the awkward shape of pharaoh’s daughter’s left arm.
Thus Miriam, un-named in the biblical text, tends to appear in Jewish artwork and to be minimized in Christian artwork, in accordance with the readings of the story by these different religious groups.


The Song of the Sea and the Song of Miriam

The Song of the Sea in Exodus 15 celebrates the splitting and crossing of the Red Sea. There are actually two songs: the longer one (eighteen verses) is attributed to Moses


I will sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously;
Horse and driver He has hurled into the sea….


Only afterwards does a new (single verse) song begin:


20 Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand,
and all the women went out after her in dance with timbrels.
21 And Miriam answered them:
Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously;
Horse and driver He has hurled into the sea.


Only two verses, but they seem like a floating fragment and are certainly rife with problems.


  • Miriam is named here for the first time and is called a prophetess. But neither here nor elsewhere does Miriam “prophesy” in any clear sense.
  • Miriam is surprisingly titled the “sister of Aaron”. Why not the “sister of Moses”?
  • Miriam is a leader here, at least of singing and at least of the Israelite women. If she is a leader, why does she appear so infrequently in the narrative?
  • Verse 21 contains two strange formulations: the ambiguous word ותען and the masculine object להם. Since it is the women who follow her and they have not yet spoken, what and whom is she “answering”?
  • Finally, Miriam seems to quote just a small section of Moses’ Song, but she changes the first word from “I will sing” to the imperative plural “Sing!”. What is the relationship between the two songs?


Regarding her titles “the prophetess, sister of Aaron”, Jewish midrashim ask and answer in a variety of ways why she is not called the “sister of Moses”? The general tendency is to refer to a prophecy by the young Miriam before Moses’ birth: she foretold Moses’ role as Israel’s savior, when she was as yet only Aaron’s sister. This also explains why she is called “prophetess”. However the explanation is entirely based on extra-biblical sources.


Some scholars see verse 21 as the title of the Song; the writer is simply saying that Miriam and the women sang the same song as Moses. Others see the two songs as representing two separate literary traditions (J and E). Many feminist writers suggest that the Song was originally Miriam’s, but was attributed later to Moses as part of a male-dominated agenda. A particularly impressive interpretation of the different wording (“I will sing” and “Sing!”), by T. Cohen, suggests that they represent two different types of leadership: Moses’ is frontal and dramatic, while Miriam’s is collaborative and earthy. Others see Miriam not only as a song leader, but as the prophetic leader of a women’s guild, similar to the “schools of prophets” mentioned in the Former Prophets. Support for this view is found in several biblical passages, where woman are the singers of victory songs (Judges 5, I Samuel 18:7)


Regarding ותען להם (“she answered them”), this curious phrase has been explained in various ways. Some say that she is addressing the entire community, both men and women. Others say she is responding to an angelic protest. Some say that the use of the third person feminine pronoun is inconsistent throughout the Tanakh. As for the word ותען, which usually means “she answered”, it can also mean “she addressed” or, according the NJPS translation, “she led”.
But the thorniest issue, since at least the middle ages, has been the appearance of Miriam and the Israelite women singing and dancing in the presence of the Israelite men. This would seem to contradict the rabbinic dictum, “A voice coming from a woman is nakedness” or “A woman’s voice is a sexual incitement (Soncino)”, on the basis of which women have been prevented from singing in public. In general, Jewish commentators concluded that the special circumstances of the miraculous event or the special character of Miriam enabled an abrogation of the general ban.


The artwork

How have artists seen Miriam in this episode? We will now present a selection of art on the Song of the Sea, arranged according to Miriam’s changing role vis a vis the Israelite community:


  • Miriam (and other women) absent
  • Miriam (and other women) within a mixed group
  • Women and men separated
  • Women performing for men
  • Women only


Our earliest example of the crossing of the Red Sea – the 3rd century painting from the Dura Europos synagogue – excludes Miriam entirely, while Moses appears three times.




In the 5th century mosaic of St. Maria Maggiore, and elsewhere, men and women, including Miriam and Moses, constitute a mixed group.


Santa Maria Maggiore


Likewise in this 15th century illustration from Augustine’s City of God, there is a mixed group; but note that there is also a separate women’s chorus (toward the right).


City of God, ca. 1475


All face away from the Sea. Miriam is probably the first woman in the chorus; she plays a harp rather than a tambourine and she is, like the other women, kneeling rather than dancing.

In other cases, the scene contains separate groups of men and women, situated close to one another.


Old English Illustrated Hexateuch of Aelfric, 11th century

Visigothic-Mozarabic Bible of St. Isidore, 960


The two panels of the 12th century Aelfric paraphrase are surprising in their presentation. Below, married women (their heads covered) are standing in an orderly arrangement of instrumentalists. Logically Miriam is the central figure (with five players on either side), although she is not distinguished from the other women in any way. Dancing men, grouped around Moses with his staff fill the upper panel. The biblical text, of course, describes the women as the dancers. In 12th century England, it was apparently deemed inappropriate for women to dance in public, and so the biblical description was reversed. The emotional content of this painting is striking and freeing.


The scene in the 10th century Visigothic-Mozarabic Bible also shows two separate groups: the men are uniform figures (except for Moses with his staff), hands pointed to the right, faces frontal, feet in the same direction. The women too could be paper dolls holding tambourines. Again, all heads are covered. Only Miriam stands out, in her centrality and her size.


Kaufmann Haggadah, 14th century


Two different types of movement characterize the 14th century Kaufmann haggadah. On the left, men raise their arms in vigorous praise. On the right, a group of young women dances sedately, accompanied by married singers (their heads covered). Behind them stand three musicians and the beautiful, young Miriam with her iconic tambourine. This triumphal event in Exodus 15 must have taken place outdoors. Not so in the Kaufmann haggadah, where women cannot be imagined dancing in public.


A very different approach is taken by artists who portray Miriam, alone or with the other women, openly performing for the male audience.


9th century Mt. Athos

Leora Wise


The 9th century painting from a psalterion from Mt. Athos represents the Greek tradition, which consistently portrays Miriam as an uninhibited, sensuous performer: her hair is loose, her arms are raised above her head playing castanets, her hips undulating under her flowing dress. The men clap in response to her dance and may even be participating. Moses, as always identified by his staff, stands behind the men, less involved.


Similarly, contemporary Israeli artist Leora Wise places Miriam within a group of female dancers and musicians, all dressed scantily, performing for a male audience, their identities hidden in the shadows.

Finally, we encounter paintings that portray only the women.


Second Nuremberg Haggadah, ca. 1450


For example, the 15th century Second Nuremberg Haggadah presents a group of married women, modestly dressed, dancing in the style of women at a Haredi wedding. Miriam plays the tambourine and another woman, a lute. We take note that Miriam faces away from the viewer, although her feet are making a different statement. Is this playful or intentional?


Golden Haggadah, ca. 1320


The fourteenth century Sephardi “Golden Haggadah” presents a truly joyous scene, outside of time and place: “spaceless space”. The large figures, all unmarried women, practically fill the entire canvas. There is a rhythm to the movement of the figures, the patterning of their dresses, their hands, their positions, etc. It’s as if the visual pattern reflects the sound pattern of the Song of the Sea. It is not absolutely clear which figure is Miriam, although it seems reasonable that she is one of the figures holding tambourines (one round and one square). The picture, then, is a celebration of women and not of a particular individual. There is no overt reference to the Song of the Sea, but rather it is a painting of a group of aristocratic young women, serenely singing and dancing. However here and in many other sephardi haggadot, Miriam’s Song is paired with pictures of the preparation for the Passover Seder. The statement is that Miriam’s act is the conceptual model for our own festivities.


Ethiopian apocrypha, 18th century


This picture is from an Ethiopian manuscript of apocryphal material on Moses. The last illustration in the manuscript, it is the only one that deals with Miriam. But which figure is she? On the one hand, she may be the woman on the right, distinguished by her necklace and holding a rod, a sign of her leadership. All of the other women look toward her, while she looks back at them. On the other hand, she may be the central figure, holding a systrum, a type of clapper. In ancient Egypt, the systrum was associated with the cult of the fertility goddess Hathor. Perhaps it is this central figure which holds the rod. In other words, in either case Miriam is only identified by the objects she holds or wears.


Four moderns on Miriam

J. Tissot,1896 – 1902

M. Chagall, 1966


Tissot gives us two groups of women – adults on the left and girls on the right, both groups dressed in coordinated costumes. All are singing and dancing, as if on stage: the adults with hand drums and the girls with systra. The men, if present at all, are in an indistinct background.
Chagall’s women are clearly uninhibited: Miriam is topless, tall and central, her hair big and unbound. She leads the freeform dancing of the women. Chagall’s favorite flora and fauna embroider the edges – men, however, are absent. This is a women’s show.

Two other moderns present Miriam as a solo dancer


P. Ratner, 1997

E.M. Lilien, 1908


E.M. Lilien, unlike Chagall, pictures Miriam as a dignified, queenly figure, beautifully draped and bejeweled, dancing and singing. The folds of her garment are art nouveau, circles and rings emphasizing rhythmic movement. A recurring motif in Lilien’s work is the striped garment which gives Miriam an iconic status.


Phillip Ratner’s undulating Miriam is bent backwards, practically double. Her raised leg, long pony tail, bracelets and anklets accent her passionate movement. One hand holds the tambourine aloft. It becomes a focus of attention, because we expect to see Miriam’s head there. Her narrow skirt threatens to inhibit the movement of her exuberant body. She stands on a heap of fabric that might be her veil, abandoned in her ecstasy.


In sum, the moderns, like many of the traditionalists, tend to separate Miriam and the women from the men. But for entirely different reasons. Modesty is out of the picture; feminism is in.


Rebellion and leprosy

The next time we meet Miriam in the Torah narrative, she challenges Moses’ leadership (Numbers 12). At first she and Aaron bring up Moses’ marriage to a “Cushite woman” and afterwards they contest the exclusivity of Moses’ status as prophet. While Moses does not respond, God punishes the challenge by striking Miriam with leprosy. Moses and Aaron then intercede with God for Miriam’s healing. The matter of the Cushite woman has disappeared.


Aaron’s role in this story is ambiguous. While the first verb is feminine singular, making Miriam the instigator, the next verse attributes the challenge to both Aaron and Miriam. Yet, only Miriam is punished; why is Aaron not punished? Is this a reflection of an ancient struggle for status among rival Levitical groups? Is this also a gender issue, the first case of a woman vying for political or cultic status and a denial of the right of a woman to either?


There is no Jewish traditional art on Miriam’s rebellion. How should we understand this reticence?


In several Christian treatments of our story, as in the French Biblia Pauperum below, Miriam appears as the repentant sinner, parallel to David and Mary Magdalene.


Biblia Pauperum Amiens (?), 1470


Miriam kneels, in a position of contrition (symbolizing her inferior status), while Moses and Aaron stand. Actually, in the biblical account, Miriam does not repent. Why then does the artist make her repentant? Could this be part of the parallel made in the Biblia Pauperum and by many Christian exegetes between Miram and Mary (Miriam) Magdalene, who only became the repentant prostitute centuries after the writing of the New Testament? It has been suggested that in both cases (Mary and Miriam) the underlying issue was a demotion of women as religious leaders.

Another artistic approach to our story is the view of Miriam as the unjustified challenger to Moses’ authority:


Bible moralisee, Italy, ca. 1350


Here Miriam is portrayed as the “type” of the Synagogue. The accompanying text explains that Miriam defames Moses to Aaron, as “the Synagogue” and “the philosophers” defame the Church.


Biblia pauperum Austria ca. 1435


In this 15th century Biblia Pauperum, like the one above, Miriam is compared to David and Mary Magdalene. Here she is not repentant, nor is she struck with leprosy, but rather she stands assertively opposite Moses, while Aaron is missing.


The most interesting and perplexing rendition of our perplexing story is that of Martin Heemskerck, in a book of pictures on the eight Beatitudes. Each picture deals with one of the “blessed” in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, linking each of the eight characteristics cited with a figure from the Old or New Testament.


M.van Heemskerck, ca. 1566


In this picture, Moses is the embodiment of the text of Matthew 5:5:

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth


and the representative story is Miriam’s rebellion. Under the picture is an explanation of the parallel:


Happy is the gentle soul whose humility

crowned him as chief interpreter of the gods

He was imbued with the mind to rule the world

Moses was given thousands of divine words…


In other words, Moses’s humility (see Numbers 12:2) is what made him worthy of leadership.


On the left fringe of the picture, stand the horned Moses and the Cushite woman. He holds his emblematic rod; his posture and clothing are those of an unassuming shepherd. The Cushite woman is crowned and elaborately gowned. The two gesture defensively as if insulted. At the center of the picture, however, Miriam and Aaron stand facing Moses and the Cushite woman. Aaron wears his breastplate, a horned insignia on his mitre and carries a censer, all symbols of his priestly office. Miriam stands behind Aaron, wearing a tiara and a symbol of status. Their hands gesture, expressing the verse “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?” In the background right, God reproves the rebels at the Tent of Meeting; in the left background, below, Aaron intercedes for Miriam, now stricken with leprosy and above, he succors her.


Two elements make this picture difficult to understand. On the one hand, while the picture is intended to highlight Moses’ humility, Aaron and Miriam are the most prominent figures, each one appearing four times, while Moses appears only three times. On the other hand, unlike all other artistic renditions of this story, the Cushite woman appears here; but her significance for the story is unclear.


Is it possible that Origen’s typological interpretation of Miriam as the synagogue and the Cushite woman as the gentiles who have been adopted by the Church, explains these questions? In the picture, Miriam and Aaron (the Pharisees and the Priests) disparage the Cushite woman (the gentiles) who Moses (the spiritual law, the Church) has married. Miriam is tried by God and punished with leprosy and banished from the camp (the congregation of believers), but will eventually be readmitted. Thus Moses’ humility is expressed in typological terms.


Miriam’s death and Miriam’s well

1The Israelites arrived in a body at the wilderness of Zin on the first new moon, and the people stayed at Kadesh. Miriam died there and was buried there. 2The community was without water…. Numbers 20


Abruptly, Miriam dies and is buried at Kadesh. No further details are given. The text then goes on without transition to recount yet another water crisis. Jewish tradition sought to understand the barrenness of the account and the juxtaposition of Miriam’s death with the new emergency.
The major conclusion of midrash was to connect Miriam with the rock that produced water for the people after Moses struck it. The connection is convoluted and varied:


  • Miriam is connected with water throughout her life: saving Moses from the Nile, singing at the Red Sea, etc.
  • It is by her virtue that the people of Israel are blessed throughout the years of wandering with a miraculous well that follows them through the desert
  • When Miriam dies, the well stops flowing, in order that the people be reminded of her virtue and mourn for her
  • Moses and Aaron are in mourning for Miriam and do not attend to the now dried up well
  • Because of their thirst, the people once again turn on Moses, ignoring his bereavement
  • God commands Moses to take his staff and attend to the water crisis
  • The staff sometimes appears as a mark of Moses’ office and sometimes as an instrument of punishment
  • Rashi refers to the fabulous well with the words


These words can be understood as meaning: 1) the well did not want to flow for Moses in order to give honor to Miriam or 2) Moses did not want to make the well flow for the people of Israel, because of Miriam’s death; while we prefer the first explanation, the second has the advantage of contextualizing the striking of the stone with Moses’ psychological state.


In light of this complex midrashic interpretation, it is strange that there are no pre-modern Jewish artistic treatments of Miriam’s death and the ensuing water crisis. However, several modern Jewish artists have dealt with this episode. We present here four works that, like the traditional midrashim, try to understand the diverse elements of Parashat hukkat, but are unable to fully clarify the connections between them.


Janet Shafner created two paintings dealing with Miriam’s final appearance in the Torah. In both she is connected with water, following the midrashim and in both Shafner refers to the Red Heifer purification rite that precedes the account of Miriam’s death. In one of her painting she also includes the copper serpent, which appears at the end of the parashah. The common element is healing: the copper serpent in the center heals Israel, the ashes of the red heifer purify contamination of Israel and Miriam’s devotion “heals” Israel’s thirst. Visually, Shafner uses triangles and colors to organize the various elements: red for the fire of the red heifer, blue for the water of Miriam’s well and purple (the combination of red and blue) for the copper serpent.


J. Shafner, 2008


Siona Benjamin has also treated Miriam a number of times and sees her as a tragic figure. In the painting below, Benjamin has placed Miriam in the ritual setting of the Passover seder.


S. Benjamin, 2006

An inovation of the 20th century, Miriam’s cup is a parallel to Elijah’s wine cup of wrath. But her cup contains life-giving water as appropriate to Miriam’s role in midrash. Here she is connected to two IV’s: blood and water. Behind her, there is a “mushroom cloud”, containing grotesque faces. Her hand holds a switch to call for help.



In Archie Rand’s treatment of the weekly Torah portion Hukkat, six elements fill his canvas: two tents on the left, Moses and a rocky formation on the right, a stone structure for fire/water in the center and the copper serpent in the foreground at left. The subject of the portion is purification from contact with the dead. This is accomplished through the ashes of a Red Heifer. The tents, pocked with disease, will be purified with water mixed with these ashes.


A. Rand, 1989

The stone structure in the center appears to be a burning fireplace. Body parts nearby might be the remains of an unidentified and abandoned corpse that could cause contamination. Enigmatically, this structure also looks like a well.


To the right, a veiled figure holds the emblamatic staff. Is this Moses or is it the ghostly Miriam in a beautiful, pleated dress? In the continuation of the parasha, Moses strikes the rock with his staff and water gushes out to pacify the thirsty Israelites. In midrash, however, this is again Miriam’s well, described as pocked with holes. Rand has combined the two views and perhaps given Miriam an almost regal presence.


Finally, the copper serpent, built by Moses to magically heal those bitten by a sudden attack of seraphim or winged serpents, stands closest to the viewer. The portion deals with the mystery and fears surrounding death. Rand has made reference to many elements of the portion; Miriam, if referenced at all, is obscured.


This final episode in the life of Miriam is a kind of a metaphor for her life and character. The hidden is greater than the revealed: “there’s more to it than meets the eye”


Article Sources:

Rescue of Moses


Exodus 2


1 A certain man of the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. 2 The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw how beautiful he was, she hid him for three months. 3 When she could hide him no longer, she got a wicker basket for him and caulked it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child into it and placed it among the reeds by the bank of the Nile. 4 And his sister stationed herself at a distance, to learn what would befall him.

5 The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe in the Nile, while her maidens walked along the Nile. She spied the basket among the reeds and sent her slave girl to fetch it. 6 When she opened it, she saw that it was a child, a boy crying. She took pity on it and said, “This must be a Hebrew child.” 7 Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a Hebrew nurse to suckle the child for you?” 8 And Pharaoh’s daughter answered, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. 9And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will pay your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed it.


Babylonian Talmud Sotah 11a


And his sister stood afar off. R. Isaac said: The whole of this verse is spoken with reference to the Shechinah: and stood, as it is written: And the Lord came and stood etc. His sister, as it is written: Say unto wisdom, thou art my Sister. Afar off, as it is written: The Lord appeared from afar unto me. To know, as it is written: For the Lord is a God of knowledge. What, as it is written: What doth the Lord require of thee? Done, as it is written: Surely the Lord God will do nothing. To him, as it is written: And called it Lord is peace.


Sifre Behaalotecha 20


Shiphrah was Jochebed, and Puah was Miriam.  Shiphra because she was fruitful and multiplied.  Shiphra because she cleansed the newborn.  Shiphra because Israel was fruitful and multiplied in her days.  Puah because she would groan and cry about brother, as it is said (Exodus 2) "And his sister stationed herself at a distance, to learn what would befall him".

God gave the midwives [Shiphrah and Puah|] houses, because they feared him (Ex. 1:18 – 21).  Now I do not know what these houses are. When Scripture states, Solomon had taken twenty years to build the two houses, the house of the Lord and the royal palace (I King 9:10), the house of the Lord refers to the priesthood, and the house of the king sovereignty. Jochebed had the merit of acquiring the priesthood, and Miriam, the royal house, as it is said, Coz was the father of Anub and Zobebah, and the clans of Aharhel, son of Harum (I Chr. 4:8). Aharhel is the same as Miriam, as it is said, And all the women went forth after her (Ex. 15:20). Son of Harum refers to Jochebed, as it is said, Everything subject to the herem in Israel will belong to you (Num. 18:14). Miriam married Caleb, as it is said When Azubah died, Caleb married Epthrath, who bore him Hur (I Chr. 2:19). The descendants of Caleb: the sons of Hur, [the eldest son of Ephrathah: Shobal, the founder of Kiriath jearim, Salma, the founder of Bethlehem, and Hareph, the founder of Beth gader; Shobal, the founder of Kiriath jearim, was the father of Reaiah, and the ancestor of half the Manahethites} (I Chr. 4:50 – 52). And Scripture further states, David was the son of a man of Ephratah of Bethlehem in Judah (I Sam. 17:12). So, David turns out to be one of the descendants of Miriam.


Origen – Homilies on Genesis and Exodus

I think Pharaoh's daughter can be regarded as the Church which is gathered from the Gentiles. Although she has an impious and hostile father, nevertheless, the prophet says to her, "Hear, O daughter, and behold and incline your ear. Forget your people and the house of your father because the king has desired your beauty." This, therefore, is the daughter who leaves her father's house and comes to the waters to be washed from the sins which she had contracted in her father's house. And then immediately she experiences "deeply felt compassion" and pities the child.

This Church, therefore, coming from the Gentiles finds Moses in the marsh lying cast off by his own people and exposed, and gives him out to be reared. He is reared by his own family and spends his childhood there. When, however "he had grown stronger," he is brought to her and adopted as a son.


Gregory of Nyassa – Dogmatic Writings


Again, the great Moses, when he was a goodly child, and yet at the breast, falling under the general and cruel decree which the hard-hearted Pharaoh made against the men-children, was exposed on the banks of the river—not naked, but laid in an ark, for it was fitting that the Law should typically be enclosed in a coffer



The Song of Miriam


Exodus 15

20Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her in dance with timbrels. 21And Miriam chanted for them:
Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously;
Horse and driver He has hurled into the sea.


Philo Life of Moses, II, xlvi, 256

For this mercy Moses very naturally honored his Benefactor with hymns of gratitude. For having divided the host into two choruses, one of men and one of women, he himself became the leader of that of the men, and appointed his sister to be the chief of that of the women, that they might sing hymns to their father and Creator, joining in harmonies responsive to one another, by a combination of dispositions and melody, the former being eager to offer the same requital for the mercies which they had received, and the latter consisting of a symphony of the deep male with the high female voices, for the tones of men are deep and those of women are high; and when there is a perfect and harmonious combination of the two a most delightful and thoroughly harmonious melody is effected. (257) And he persuaded all those myriads of men and women to be of one mind, and to sing in concert the same hymn at the same time in praise of those marvelous and mighty works which they had beheld, and which I have been just now relating. At which the prophet rejoicing, and seeing also the exceeding joy of his nation, and being himself too unable to contain his delight, began the song. And they who heard him being divided into two choruses, sang with him, taking the words which he uttered.


Philo, On the Contemplative Life, XI, 87

(87) When the Israelites saw and experienced this great miracle, which was an event beyond all description, beyond all imagination, and beyond all hope, both men and women together, under the influence of divine inspiration, becoming all one chorus, sang hymns of thanksgiving to God the Savior, Moses the prophet leading the men, and Miriam the prophetess leading the women.


Philo, On Agriculture, XVI, 79f

(79) But the divine army is the body of virtues, the champions of the souls that love God, whom it becomes, when they see the adversary defeated, to sing a most beautiful and becoming hymn to the God who gives the victory and the glorious triumph; and two choruses, the one proceeding from the conclave of the men, and the other from the company of the women, will stand up and sing in alternate songs a melody responsive to one another's voices. (80) And the chorus of men will have Moses for their leader; and that of the women will be under the guidance of Miriam, "the purified outward Sense." (Ex. 15:20.) For it is just that hymns and praises should be uttered in honor of God without any delay, both in accordance with the suggestions of the intellect and the perceptions of the outward senses, and that each instrument should be struck in harmony, I mean those both of the mind and of the outward sense, in gratitude and honor to the holy Savior. (81) Accordingly, all the men sing the song on the sea-shore, not indeed with a blind mind, but seeing sharply, Moses being the leader of the song; and women sing, who are in good truth the most excellent of their sex, having been enrolled in the lists of the republic of virtue, Miriam being their leader.


Mekhilta Hashira 10


And Miriam the Prophetess…took - But where do we find that Mirim prophesied? It is merely this: Miriam had said to her father You are destined to beget a son who will arise and save Israel from the hands of the Egyptians. Immediately, There went a man of the house of Levi and took to wife…and the women conceived and bore a son…and when she could no longer hide him…. (Ex. 2: 1 – 3). Then her father reproached her. He said to her, "Miriam! What of thy prediction?" But she still held on to her prophecy, as it is said And his sister stood afar off to know what should be done to him (ibid. 4). For the expression "standing" (yezibah) suggests the presence of the Holy Spirit, as in the passage I saw the Lord standing beside the altar (Amos 9:1). And it also says And the Lord came and stood (I Sam 3:10). And it also says Call Joshua and stand….(Deut 31:14)

afar off – The expression "afar off" (merahok) everywhere suggests the presence of the Holy Spirit, as in the passage From afar (merahok) the Lord appeared unto me (Jer. 31:2)

to know – "knowledge" (deah) everywhere suggests the presence of the Holy Spirit, as in the passage For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord (Isa. 11:9). And it also says For the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea (Hab. 2:14).

what would be done to him – the expression "doing" (assiyah) suggests the presence of the Holy Spirit, as in the passage For the Lord will do nothing, without revealing his counsel to his servants the prophets (Am. 3:7).

the sister of Aaron – But was she not the sister of both Moses and Aaron? Why then does it say the sister of Aaron? It is merely because Aaraon was devoted with his whole soul to his sister that she is called his sister…

a timbrel in her hand – But where could the Israelites have gotten timbrels and flutes in the wilderness? It was simply that the righteous ones had been confident and knew that God would do miracles and mighty deeds for them at their going out of Egypt and they prepared for themselves timbrels and flutes.


Babylonian Talmud Megillah 14a


And Miriam the prophetess the sister of Aaron. Was she only the sister of Aaron and not the sister of Moses? R. Nahman said in the name of Rab: [She was so called] because she prophesied when she was the sister of Aaron [only] and said, My mother is destined to bear a son who will save Israel. When he was born the whole house was filled with light, and her father arose and kissed her on the head, saying, My daughter, thy prophecy has been fulfilled. But when they threw him into the river her father arose and tapped her on the head, saying. Daughter, where is thy prophecy? So it is written, And his sister stood afar off to know; to know, [that is,] what would be with the latter part of her prophecy.


Exodus Rabba 1:17


17. And it came to pass, because the midwives feared god, that he built them houses (I, 21). Rab and Levi discussed this. One says: It means that they established priestly and levitical families; and the other, that they were founders of a royal family. Priestly and levitical families-from Moses and Aaron; a royal family from Miriam, because David descended from Miriam, as it is written: And Caleb the son of Hezron begot Azubah his wife-and of Jerioth-and these were her sons: Jasher, and Shobab and Ardon (I Chron. II, 18). Azubah is Miriam; and why was she so called? Because all had forsaken her. He begot? But she was his wife! This is to teach you, said R. Johanan, that if one marries a woman for the sake of heaven, he is regarded as if he had given birth to her. Jerioth -because her face was like the curtains of (yeri'oth) the tabernacle. And these are her sons’ -do not pronounce it banehah (her sons) but bonehah (her builders). ’Jasher is Caleb, because he rectified (yashir) his ways. Shobab, because he disciplined (shibbeb) himself. ‘Ardon, because he chastised (ridah) his soul. And Azubah died -to teach us that she was ill and was treated as if already dead, Caleb too forsaking her. And Caleb took unto him Ephrath, this is Miriam. And why was she called Ephrath? Because Israel were fruitful (paru) and increased, thanks to her. What is meant by and he took unto him? When she was healed, he treated her as though he were now marrying her, placing her in the litter, on account of his great joy in her. Similarly, you will find in another place that Miriam is called by two names on account of the incident that happened to her. Thus it says: And Ashur the father of Tekoa had two wives, Nelah and Naarah (ib. IV, 5). Ashur is Caleb, because Ashur was the son of Hezron. Why was he called Ashur? Because he made his face black (hishhiru…Whence do we know that David descended from Miriam? Because it says: Now David was the son of that Ephrathite of Beth-lehem in Judah (I Sam. XVII, 12). And similarly you find the verse stating, And the sons of Helah, etc., [which is followed by] And Koz begot Anub (I Chron. IV, 8).5 ’Koz is Caleb, because he repudiated (kazaz) the plan of the spies. He begot Anub’ -he laid up for himself a stock of good deeds when they brought the cluster of grapes (anabim), for had it not been for Caleb, they would not have brought it. And Zobebah - because he performed God's will (zibyon). And the families of Aharhel the son of Harum (ib. 8). Aharhel is Miriam: and why was she thus called? Because: And all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances (Ex. XV, 20). What families was he privileged to raise from her?-’ The son of Harum: i.e. she was privileged to have among her descendants David whose kingdom God exalted (rimam), as it is said: And He will give strength unto His King (I Sam. II, 10)


Gregory of Nyassa Dogmatic Treatises Chapter XIX


But besides other things the action of Miriam the prophetess also gives rise to these surmising of ours. Directly the sea was crossed she took in her hand a dry and sounding timbrel and conducted the women’s dance. By this timbrel the story may mean to imply virginity, as first perfected by Miriam; whom indeed I would believe to be a type of Mary the mother of God. Just as the timbrel emits a loud sound because it is devoid of all moisture and reduced to the highest degree of dryness, so has virginity a clear and ringing report amongst men because it repels from itself the vital sap of merely physical life. Thus, Miriam’s timbrel being a dead thing, and virginity being a deadening of the bodily passions, it is perhaps not very far removed from the bounds of probability that Miriam was a virgin. However, we can but guess and surmise, we cannot clearly prove, that this was so, and that Miriam the prophetess led a dance of virgins, even though many of the learned have affirmed distinctly that she was unmarried, from the fact that the history makes no mention either of her marriage or of her being a mother; and surely she would have been named and known, not as “the sister of Aaron,” but from her husband, if she had had one; since the head of the woman is not the brother but the husband.


Commentary of the Riva on Exodus 16:26


And Miriam responded. Note: It should have said "lahen"' since it seems to refer to the women. But my teacher told that there is a midrash that the angels said to the Holy One, blessed be He, Master of the Universe, if the men have preceded us in singing the song of the sea, should the women also precede us? Therefore Miriam answered them (the angels) Sing first and afterwards the women will sing.


R. Menahem Azariah of Fano, Kanfe Yonah IV, 36


And so it is written, And Miriam answered them - not to the women she said this, since if this were the case it would have been written lahen (to them, f.), but rather to Moses and the people of Israel…it is also possible that she answered them refers to angels, who stood behind the righteous women, as it is written and afterwards musicians (Psalms 68:26).



Aaron and Miriam’s rebellion


Number 12

1When they were in Hazeroth, Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman he had married. "He married a Cushite woman!"

They said, “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?” The Lord heard it. 2Now Moses was a very humble man, more so than any other man on earth. 3Suddenly the Lord called to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, “Come out, you three, to the Tent of Meeting.” So the three of them went out. 4The Lord came down in a pillar of cloud, stopped at the entrance of the Tent, and called out, “Aaron and Miriam!” The two of them came forward; 5and He said, “Hear these My words: When a prophet of the Lord arises among you, I make Myself known to him in a vision, I speak with him in a dream. 6Not so with My servant Moses; he is trusted throughout My household. 7With him I speak mouth to mouth, plainly and not in riddles, and he beholds the likeness of the Lord. How then did you not shrink from speaking against My servant Moses!” 8Still incensed with them, the Lord departed.

9As the cloud withdrew from the Tent, there was Miriam stricken with snow-white scales! When Aaron turned toward Miriam, he saw that she was stricken with scales. 10And Aaron said to Moses, “O my lord, account not to us the sin which we committed in our folly. 11Let her not be as one dead, who emerges from his mother’s womb with half his flesh eaten away.” 12So Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, “O God, pray heal her!”

13But the Lord said to Moses, “If her father spat in her face, would she not bear her shame for seven days? Let her be shut out of camp for seven days, and then let her be readmitted.” 14So Miriam was shut out of camp seven days; and the people did not march on until Miriam was readmitted. 15After that the people set out from Hazeroth and encamped in the wilderness of Paran.


Deuteronomy 24: 8 – 9


8In cases of a skin affection be most careful to do exactly as the levitical priests instruct you. Take care to do as I have commanded them. 9Remember what the Lord your God did to Miriam on the journey after you left Egypt.


Philo Leg. All. II, 66 – 67


It is said also in the case of Miriam, when she was speaking against Moses, "If her father had spit in her face, ought she not to keep herself retired for seven Days?" (Numbers 12:14.) (67) For the external sense, being really shameless and impudent, though considered as nothing by God the father, in comparison of him who was faithful in all his house, to whom God himself united the Ethiopian woman, that is to say, unchangeable and well-satisfied opinion, dared to speak against Moses and to accuse him, for the very actions for which he deserved to be praised; for this is his greatest praise, that he received the Ethiopian woman, the unchangeable nature, tried in the fire and found honest; for as in the eye, the part which sees is black, so also the part of the soul which sees is what is meant by the Ethiopian woman. (68)


Josephus Antiquities II, 10


However, while Moses was uneasy at the army's lying idle, (for the enemies durst not come to a battle,) this accident happened: - Tharbis was the daughter of the king of the Ethiopians: she happened to see Moses as he led the army near the walls, and fought with great courage; and admiring the subtility of his undertakings, and believing him to be the author of the Egyptians' success, when they had before despaired of recovering their liberty, and to be the occasion of the great danger the Ethiopians were in, when they had before boasted of their great achievements, she fell deeply in love with him; and upon the prevalency of that passion, sent to him the most faithful of all her servants to discourse with him about their marriage. He thereupon accepted the offer, on condition she would procure the delivering up of the city; and gave her the assurance of an oath to take her to his wife; and that when he had once taken possession of the city, he would not break his oath to her. No sooner was the agreement made, but it took effect immediately; and when Moses had cut off the Ethiopians, he gave thanks to God, and consummated his marriage, and led the Egyptians back to their own land.


Aboth deRabbi Natan 9:2


Rabbi Simeon says, Upon them that speak slander plagues come. For thus we find concerning Aaron and Miriam, that they engaged in slandering Moses and punishment came upon them; as it is said, And Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses (Num. 12:1). Why does the verse mention Miriam before Aaron? This teaches that Zipporah went and told Miriam; Miriam went and told Aaron; then both of them stood and spoke against that righteous man. Because they both stood and spoke against that righteous man, punishment came upon them; as it is said, And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them; and He departed (Num. 12:9). Why does the verse say, And He departed? This teaches that the punishment removed from Aaron and clove to Miriam; for Aaron was no tale bearer; Miriam however , who was the tale bearer, was thereupon punished severely.

Miriam said, The Word was upon me but I did not keep away from my husband. Aaron said, The Word was upon me but I did not keep away from wife. And the Word was upon our fathers of old, but they did not keep away from their wives. But he, because of his presumptuous spirit, kept away from his wife!

Now they did not pass judgment on him to his face, but out of his sight. Nor did they pass judgment on him with certainty, but doubtfully: was he of presumptuous spirit or was he not of presumptuous spirit? Is there not, then, an inference to be drawn here? If Miriam – who spoke against her brother only, and did not speak to Moses' face – was punished, how much grater will be the punishment of the ordinary person who says things to his fellow's face and puts him to shame?

At that time Aaron said to Moses, Moses, my brother , dost thou think that this leprosy is being visited upon Miriam (alone)? It is visited indeed upon the flesh of our father Amram. I shall tell them a parable: to what my this be likened? To one who held a glowing coal in his hand; although he keeps juggling, it, his flesh is nevertheless seared, as it is said Let her not, I pray, be as one dead (Num. 12:12). It was at that time that Aaron began to conciliate Moses. He said to him, Moses, my brother, have we ever done evil to anyone in the world? No, he answered. If we have done no others to evil in the world, said Aaron, how could we think of doing evil to thee, that art our brother? But what am I to do? It was an error on our part: we neglected the covenant between us and thee - as it is said, And they remembered not the brotherly covenant (Am. 1:9). Because of the covenant drawn up between us, which we neglected, shall we lose our sister? Thereupon Moses drew a small circle and stood within it and beseeched mercy in her behalf, saying "I shall not stir from here until Miriam my sister is healed." As it is said, Heal her now, O God, I beseech Thee (Num. 12:13).

It was then that the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moses: If a king had rebuked her, if her father had rebuked her, would she not be in shame seven days? How much the more when I, the King of kings of kings, (rebuke her)! By all rights she should be in shame fourteen days! But for your sake (seven days) shall be pardoned her, as it is said, And the Lord said to Moses, If her father spat in her face…. (Num. 12:14).


Babylonian Talmud Sotah 11a


In the measure with which a man measures it is meted out to him… it is the same in connection with the good. Miriam waited a short while for Moses, as it is said, and his sister stood afar off; therefore Israel was delayed for her seven days in the wilderness, as it is said, and the people journeyed not till Miriam was brought in again

It is the same in connection with the good. Miriam etc. Is this like [the other cases mentioned]? There she waited a short while [for Moses], here [the Israelites waited for her] seven days? Abaye said: Read that in connection with the good [the principle of measure for measure] does not apply. Raba said to him, But the Mishnah teaches it is the same in connection with the good! But, said Raba, the Mishnah must be understood thus: It is the same in connection with the good that there is the same measure; nevertheless the measure in the case of the good is greater than the measure in the case of punishment.


Origen, Homily 6 on Numbers


Moses represents the law of the Lord. He entered into a marriage from the Gentiles. Therefore Moses, that is, the spiritual law, took this wife; and for this deed Miriam, who now is the synagogue, is indignant and speaks disparagingly, together with Aaron, that is to say, with the priests and the Pharisees. To the present day, then, that people speak disparagingly, since Moses is with us, and it seems disgraceful to them that among us he does not teach "the circumcision of the flesh" or the observance of the Sabbath or of new moons or the bloody sacrifices. Instead he instructs on the circumcision of the heart, on rest from sinning, and on feast days "in the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" and on "sacrifices of praise," and on victims, no longer slaughtered cattle, but of slaughtered vices.

So God passes judgment concerning these things and he confirms the marriage with the Ethiopian woman and he freely allows Moses to live and rest with her, but he expels Miriam "outside the camp" and puts her far from the tabernacle of testimony. Aaron is likewise expelled with her. But in addition, Miriam even becomes leprous.

Now look at that people and see the foulness of their observance, the extent of the baseness of their mental view. Nevertheless, this leprosy does not abide forever, but when the week of the world has begun to be fulfilled, they will be called back to the camp. For at the end of the world, "when the fullness of the Gentiles has entered in, then even all Israel will be saved." At that time the leprosy will cease from the countenance of Miriam, for she will receive the beauty of the faith and she will accept the splendor of the knowledge of Christ and her face will be restored when "both will become one flock and one shepherd."


Sifrei Zuta 12


Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses – [The penalty for] wicked gossip is harsh, for Miriam was afflicted with leprosy on account of wicked gossip, as it said Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses. Miriam opened the subject and spoke to Aaron, and Aaron added to the matter of which she spoke and got involved in the subject. R. Simeon says, Also Zipporah opened the subject and spoke to Miriam, and Miriam added to the matter and spoke to Aaron, and Aaron added to the matter and got involved in the subject. And what was the matter that he contributed? They say, When the elders were appointed, all Israel kindled lights and made a celebration because seventy elders had ascended to authority. When Miriam saw these lights, she said, Happy are these and happy are their wives! Said to her Zipporah, Don't say 'and happy are their wives', but "woe unto their wives'. For from the moment that the Holy One, blessed be He, spoke with your brother Moses, he has not laid a hand on me. Immediately Miriam went to Aaron and they got involved in give and take over the matter. So it is said, Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses [because of the Cushite woman whom he had married] – on the matter of his separation from the woman. They said, Moses was haughty. For did the Holy One blessed be He speak only with Moses? He had already spoken with many prophets and with us and we did not separate from our wives as he has separated from his wife, as it is said, Did the Lord speak only with Moses?

Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman – Was she indeed a Cushite? Was she not a Midianite? For it is said, And the priest of Midian had seven daughters (Ex. 2:16). Why then does Scripture refer to her as a Cushite? The meaning is that just as a Cushite has skin different from others, so Zipporah was different from others in beauty and in deeds, more beautiful than all other women. Along these same lines, A shiggaon of David which he sang to the Lord concerning the words of Cush the Benjaminite (Ps. 7:1). Now was he a Cushite? The meaning is that just as a Cushite has skin different from others, so Saul was distinctive in his appearance, as it is said, From his shoulders and upward he was taller than the entire people (I Sam. 9:2). Along these same lines, Are you not like the sons of the Cushites to me, O children of Israel (Amos 9:7). Now were they Cushites? The meaning is that just as a Cushite has skin different from others, so the Israelites are distinguished in the doing of religious duties, more so than all the nations of the world. Along these same lines, And a servant of the king, a Cushite eunuch, heard….(Jer 38:7). Now was he a Cushite? The meaning is that just as a Cushite has skin different from others, so Baruch b. Neriah ws distinguished in his deeds among all the members of the king's establishment.

R. Yose says, You have a woman who is beautiful in her youth, but when she grows old, she becomes ugly, so how do you know that Zipporah was beautiful when she got old? Say, because of the Cushite woman whom he had married. R. Judah says, You have a poor woman, the daughter of poor parents, who is taken into the royal household and does not know how to conduct herself in the manner of royalty. So how do you know that Zipporah was a Cushite in poverty and a Cushite in the royal household? Say, because of the Cushite woman whom he had married. And on what basis do you say that it was on that account that Moses married her? Scripture says, because of the Cushite woman whom he had married.

And suddenly the Lord said to Moses and to Aaron and Miriam, Come out, you three, to the tent of meeting. And the three came out. - R. Eliezer b. R. Simeon says, suddenly – urgently. The word 'suddenly' only involves uncleanness, in line with what is said, And if someone dies on him suddenly (Num. 6:9). This teaches that they lacked immersion at that moment, in accord with the measure that they meted out [to others, so it was meted out to them].

Come out, you three, to the tent of meeting. And the three of them came out. – Yose b. Judah says, At a single act of speech the three of them went out. R. Yose says, At three acts of speech the three of them went out. Now did Moses have to come out? And why did he come forth there? It was for two considerations: so that Moses would not say, Apparently some flaw has been found in me, for so I have been driven away by the act of speech, and so that the Israelites should not say, Apparently some flaw has been found in Moses, for so he has been driven away by the act of speech.

So Miriam was shut up outside the camp seven days – Because Moses prayed in her behalf, she was freed of the second spell of being shut up, for lo, she was healed in the first week of her quarantine.

And the people did not set out on the march until Miriam was brought out again – Because it is said, And his sister stood at a distance, which indicates that Miriam waited a little while to know what would become of her baby brother. Said the Holy One, blessed be He, Let Moses and Aaron and the Presence of God and the Ark and all Israel wait on her for seven days until she was declared clean.



The Death of Miriam


Numbers 20

The Israelites arrived in a body at the wilderness of Zin on the first new moon, and the people stayed at Kadesh. Miriam died there and was buried there.

2The community was without water, and they joined against Moses and Aaron.


Tosefta Sotah 11

R. Jose the son of R. Judah says: Three good leaders had arisen for Israel, namely. Moses, Aaron and Miriam, and for their sake three good things were conferred [upon Israel], namely, the Well, the Pillar of Cloud and the Manna; the Well, for the merit of Miriam; the Pillar of Cloud for the merit of Aaron; the Manna for the merit of Moses. When Miriam died the well disappeared, as it is said, And Miriam died there, and immediately follows [the verse], And there was no water for the congregation;


Babylonian Talmud Moed Katan 27b – 28a


And the bier of women is never [set down in the broadway] for the sake of propriety. Said the Nehardeans: This [Mishnah] was taught only with reference to a woman who died in childbirth, but [that of] other women may be set down [in the broadway]. R. Eleazar says: [The rule applies] even to other women, as it is written: And there Miriam died and was buried there, which shows that her death was close to her [place of] burial. R. Eleazar also said that Miriam also died by the Divine kiss [like Moses]: We interpret the expression there [used at Miriam's death] in the same sense as that of the expression there used of Moses. Wherefore then is it not said about her [that she died] by the mouth of the Lord? Because it would be unbecoming to say so.

Said R. Ammi, Wherefore is the account of Miriam's death placed next to the [laws of the] red heifer? To inform you that even as the red heifer afforded atonement [by the ritual use of its ashes], so does the death of the righteous afford atonement [for the living they have left behind].


Yalkut Shimoni Numbers 20


The well rose for Miriam's sake as it is said, And Miriam died there, immediately followed by There was no water for the community. And because the well dried up, they began to crowd around Moses and Aaron, as is said They beseiged Moses and Aaron. Moses and Aaron had been mourning Miriam, but the Holy One, blessed be He, said to them, Because you are mourning, should they die of thirst? Get up and take your staff and water the community and their flocks.

Another comment: Why did the well dry up on the death of Miriam? In order that all should know what a saint she was and that many should be sad and thus repay her good works. Thus, because Miriam had died and Moses and Aaron were busy with her and Israel sought water and found none, they immediately besieged them. When they saw them approaching, Moses said to Aaron, what does this delegation want? Aaron replied, Are the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob not rewarders of charity, the children of rewarders of charity. Said Moses, Can't you tell the difference between one crowd and another? This isn't a crowd of comfort, but of protest; if it were a crowd of comfort, their leaders would lead them. And you think they are here to acknowledge good works? Just then, they began accusing him, as it says, The people confronted Moses. Because Moses and Aaron saw their angry faces, they fled to the Tent of Meeting. What is this like? It is like a prime minister who is besieged by the citizens and flees to the king's palace.



Miriam's Well


Tosefta Sotah 11

1 As long as Miriam was alive, a well supplied water to Israel. When Miriam died, what is written? (Numbers 20) Miriam died there…and there was no water for the community.


Leviticus Rabba 22

R. Tanhuma said: The Holy One, blessed be He, accomplishes His purpose even through the agency of water. An incident is related of a certain man suffering from boils who went down to bathe in Tiberias. It so happened that he floated into Miriam's well, and he bathed there and was healed. Where is Miriam's well? R. Hiyya son of Abba answered: It is written, It is seen upon the face of Yeshimon (Num xxi, 20). If anyone ascends to the top of Mount Yeshimon he will see a kind of small sieve in the sea of Tiberias. This is the well of Miriam. R. Johanan b. Nuri says: Our Rabbis have calculated its position, which is directly opposite the middle gate of the ancient synagogue of.


Quran 19:27 - 28 (Maryam)

At length she brought (the babe <Jesus>) to her people, carrying him (in her arms), They said: "O Mary! Truly a strange thing has thou brought! O sister of Aaron, your father was not a man of evil, nor was your mother unchaste.