The Siddur – the classical prayer book of our people – has many prayers of thanksgiving and praise to Hashem, the Compassionate and Life-Giving One. The following quotes from the daily morning psalms in the Siddur remind us that there are special occasions when sacred dancing becomes a prayer of thanksgiving and praise to Hashem:
“They will praise His Name with dance” (Psalm 149:3).
“Praise Him with drum and dance” (Psalm 150:4).
In this spirit, I would like to tell you the story from our Oral Tradition about a special dance of my ancestor, Aaron, and his sister, Miriam, which took place when they were young children. The story takes place during the era of our enslavement in Egypt, when Pharaoh decreed that all the new-born male babies of the Children of Israel should be thrown into the Nile River. When the decree was issued, Amram, from the Tribe of Levi, was the leader of our people, and he and his wife, Yocheved, had two young children, Miriam and Aaron. Miriam was then five years old, and Aaron was three years old.
Our tradition teaches that the young Miriam had the gift of prophecy, and she had earlier prophesied that her mother would give birth to a son who would redeem Israel. The evil decree of Pharaoh, however, caused Amram to despair, and regarding the efforts to bring new children into the world, he said, “We are laboring in vain.” With great sadness, he decided to divorce his wife, and all the men of Israel followed his example.
His young daughter, Miriam, remembered her prophecy that her mother would give birth to the future redeemer, and she went to her father to discuss his decision. She began the discussion by raising the following challenge:
Father, your decree is more severe than the decree of the wicked Pharaoh, as Pharaoh’s decree was only against the males, but your decree is against both males and females (who will not be able to be born).
She raised additional spiritual challenges, and her father was greatly affected by her wise and powerful words. He immediately went to take back his wife, and all the men of Israel followed his example.
During the wedding of the renewed marriage of Amram and Yocheved, their children, Miriam and Aaron, joyfully danced before them!
What can we learn from the above story? We live in an age when there is serious concern about the future of our people due to various spiritual and physical threats to our survival. When we speak of spiritual threats, we realize that the majority of our people have not had a Torah education with exposure to Torah-committed communities and teachers; thus, many have already assimilated among the nations through adopting their cultures and/or religions. In addition, certain large and influential Christian organizations have begun major, well-funded campaigns in Israel and the diaspora to “convert” our people to Christianity. In previous generations, the majority of our people had a strong bond with Judaism; thus, they were able to resist the attempts to convert them, and our people survived. Given the lack of Torah education among many in our generation, the danger of these missionary attempts is more severe; moreover, each member of the People of Israel is needed for our sacred mission, which is why the loss of even one member of our people causes us great pain. Despite these spiritual and physical threats to our survival, we should not lose faith in the future of our people, and the faith of the young Miriam can serve as an example for all of us!
And just as Miriam and Aaron joyfully danced over the renewed hope for the future, so will we. Let us therefore remember the following Divine promise to our people at the onset of our exile, when Hashem addressed us as, “the Maiden of Israel”:
“And I have loved you with an eternal love, therefore I have extended lovingkindness to you. I shall yet rebuild you and you shall be rebuilt, O Maiden of Israel; you will yet adorn yourself with drums and go forth in the round-dance of the joyful.” (Jeremiah 31:2,3)
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
The prophecy of the young Miram that her mother would give birth to a son who would redeem Israel is mentioned in the Talmud: Sotah 12b, 13a.
2. The above story of Amram and his daughter appears in Sota 12a.
3. The ages of Miram and Aaron are discussed in Midrash Exodus Rabbah 1:13. (See the Etz Yosef Commentary.)