Thursday, 20 Jun 2024

Written by Yael Tischler, LBC rabbinical student

Parashat Beha’alotcha includes the infamous story of the Prophetess Miriam’s expulsion from the Israelite camp. Textually, it is because of her petty and xenophobic criticism of her brother Moses for taking a Cushite wife. However, there is also a legitimate cry running through her rebellion: her outrage that God has also spoken to her – and to her brother, Aaron – and yet Moses is the only one who receives the credit. Rav Kohenet Rabbi Jill Hammer understands this story to play a polemical role in suppressing the legitimacy of female spiritual leadership in Ancient Israel. Yet, she also suggests a radical reworking of the text that tells the story of Miriam’s ordination as a priestess, seeing her 7-day exile from the Israelite camp as a preparatory spirit journey. The following is my poem inspired by Rav Kohenet Rabbi Jill Hammer’s interpretation of the text, imagining Miriam’s 7 days in the desert:


I asked, “Miriam, what did you do, Sister, when you were in the desert 7 days?”

She replied,


“At first, I sang, filling the emptiness with my own voice

As if somehow I could blot out the darkness with music

Painting the desert the colour of song


“When my voice grew hoarse, I thought –

What will I do out here, when my Music has always held me, and others?


“I counted the grains of sand

I traced my fingers through it, making spirals

And I listened to the rush of the wind


“I heard the scuttling of spiders and snakes

The scampering of gerbils

And once, the clopping of an ibex

And often, the buzz of insects


“The way the desert came alive at night,

All the animals emerging from hiding

After the tyrant sun had gone to sleep


“It seemed the world could have a Song,

Even if I was not the one to sing it

That there was no real aloneness

If I was a link in the web of

Everything that breathes


“And as Shekhinah tended my snow-like skin

She whispered,

‘The world can sing without you, you know

Now, let yourself be cared for

Your people await you with drums and dances

On the other side of isolation.’”


-Kohenet Yael Tischler

Yael Tischler, LBC rabbinical student

The views expressed in this D’var Torah do not necessarily reflect the position of Leo Baeck College.