Parashat Hukkat

Miriam--Water Under The Bridge?

Miriam's death should motivate us to recognize people today who provide nurture and support that often goes unnoticed.

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Miriam's place in Jewish legend points to two lessons we can carry with us through our own personal wildernesses. While male prophets emphasize the power of words, the centrality of rules of conduct, of sanctity and of justice, Miriam's prophecy was one of deed. Rather than stirring speeches or administration of justice, Miriam focused on teaching her people how to sing in moments of joy, and she saw to their sustenance during their period of exposure and fragility.

Miriam's example, paralleled by countless women after her, is one of action--deeds of love and support. Without Miriam's efforts, no one would have been able to listen to the words of Moses or to study God's Torah. Acts of caring and love--that is the special gift that women give humanity. Notice, also, that no one comments on her well, on how important and valued her contribution is until after she has died.

The tragic reality is that for most women, after-the-fact recognition is often the only kind that is given. The women who work in the homes raising children, the women who work in the schools teaching students, the women who work in hospitals tending the sick, these and countless other women perform the difficult, tedious tasks that sustain and make human life possible.

While medallions and press releases accompany the splashier achievements of some men, many women quietly provide wells of nurturing and support without public attention or commendation. Only when they are no longer able to serve are their services noticed, and then only because they are missed. Why didn't anyone notice Miriam's well while she was still alive?

It may be too late to change Miriam's status among her own generation, although many Jewish men and women are now, belatedly, giving her the prominence that her compassion and nurturing deserve. But it is not too late for our generation to re-examine its own values and heroes today.

Do we sufficiently honor those whose contribution is quiet support of others? Do we still relegate such vital care to one specific group, or have we each undertaken to make ourselves not only disciples of Aaron, not only children of Moses, but also personifications of Miriam--using our hands and hearts, just as she did, to irrigate the lives of our people and of all people?

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Rabbi Bradley Artson

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson is Vice-President of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles and Dean of its Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies. He served as a congregational rabbi in Southern California for ten years. Rabbi Artson?is the author of The Bedside Torah and co-author of a children's book, I Have Some Questions about God.