Systematic persecution of the Jewish people, harsh anti-Semitic decrees and backbreaking labor, meaningless tasks designed to demean and to demoralize. A government-sponsored program to destroy the bodies and souls of the Jewish people.
Perhaps we thought we were immune to suffering like the slavery in Egypt. We're the privileged generation.
As King Solomon wrote, "There is nothing new under the sun." Suddenly the situation changed. Our worldview was turned around. Thank God, it's not the horrors of the Holocaust or the Egyptian exile, but our people are in pain and our enemies continue to rise up against us. Not just the Arabs but also the EU, the UN, the British.
Feeling lost and directionless, Jewish women can turn to the life of Miriam, the sister of Moses, a prophetess and visionary whose deep-rooted belief in the future helped save the Jewish people.
Miriam's life is a model of hope in the most dire of circumstances. She understood that the harshest suffering precedes the redemption, that the darkest hour is just before the dawn (this is an ancient Jewish idea, not just a line in a Mamas and Papas song).
As Pharaoh's genocidal plan progressed, the Jewish men grew more discouraged. At the decree to drown all Jewish male children in the Nile, they despaired. Amram, Miriam's father and the leader of the people, took drastic measures. He separated from his wife, being the first one to use the argument, "How can you bring children into a world like this?" All the other men followed suit.
Miriam, a young girl at the time, saw farther and had greater conviction and trust. She knew that having children was the ultimate life-affirming act. She knew that the Jewish people couldn't allow Pharaoh to break their spirit or destroy their will. She understood that the Almighty would redeem them.
She approached her father and said, "Pharaoh has ordered the death of the male children, but you are worse than him. You are preventing the birth of female children as well."
Persuaded by her argument, or perhaps inspired by her hope, Amram reunited with his wife who soon thereafter gave birth to Moses.
Miriam's life is replete with actions of self-sacrifice, actions that demonstrate a profound and abiding trust in God, even under adverse circumstances. As a midwife, she nurtured newborn Jewish babies despite Pharaoh's decree to kill them and she later risked her life to guard over Moses when he was placed in a basket in the Nile.
Miriam lived with an acute sense of the ultimate future and was always prepared for the Almighty's redemption of his people.
The slavery in Egypt finally ended and the children of Israel were freed. When the Egyptian oppressors were drowned in the Red Sea, Miriam took out her tambourine. She led the women in a song of gratitude to God.
Where did that tambourine come from?
Where did that tambourine come from? Anyone that's ever been to a Passover Seder knows that the Jewish people left Egypt in such a hurry they didn't even have time for their bread to rise. Yet Miriam had time to pack her tambourine?
Miriam was prepared early -- not because she was efficient but because she believed, because she knew that the Almighty keeps His promises and looks after His children. She knew that miracles would occur. She knew that Jewish women would dance and sing in praise of the Almighty. She expected to use her tambourine.
Miriam's convictions, hope and wisdom are in each Jewish woman's soul. We need to scrape away the layers to uncover our hidden power and glory, our hidden trust and strength. We need to start banging our tambourines.
Today we need to stand up for our beleaguered people. We need the facts at our fingertips so we can respond to erroneous and outrageous charges. (I highly recommend Shimon Apisdorf's book ISRAEL from his Judaism in a Nutshell series. It has all the important information in about one-fifth of the pages!) We need to harness political support for Israel, keeping it strong in the United States and building it up in other countries where possible, through lobbies and other proactive avenues. Israel desperately needs our financial support -- donations, Israel bonds (does your son's friend really need another fire truck?), and all those shop in Israel websites (I found a way to buy myself jewelry and feel very virtuous at the same time!). We must study about the importance of Israel to the soul of our people. We need to visit our homeland, and if aliya isn't possible now, at least put it on your radar. And like our sister, Miriam, we can never give up.
Like Miriam, the responsibility for the next generation is in our hands. We can ensure a strong future, filled with faith, strength, and love of the Almighty and the ever-hopeful notes of the music of Miriam.