Nissan 5764 – Miriam and “Peh Sach”

1 Nissan 5764

Miriam and “Peh Sach”
By Rabbi Eytan Feiner

Her ticket to greatness was clearly earned while in the midst of Egyptian exile. We are speaking, of course, of the devout Miriam whose very name- the window into her core essence- turns the spotlight on the “merirus,” the years of bitterness, the Jewish people endured in Mitzraim. She was the righteous sister who stood watch by the riverbank, ensuring that her brother would be safe and that Yocheved could play an important role in the young Moshe’s upbringing. The renowned “Pu’ah” so obviously filled with laudable care, concern, and devotion, Miriam’s greatness certainly encompassed far more.

Amram had decided to divorce his wife and, as expected, all Jewish males followed suit. Along comes a fledgling Miriam- according to Pesikta d’R’ Kahana, she was but six years old at the time- and informs her father, none other than the gadol hador himself, that his actions are worse than even the wicked Par’oh’s for his decision affects the Jewish females as well (Sotah 12a). As R’ Yaakov Kaminetzky points out, Miriam was not relaying a prophetic vision; rather, she was expressing the profound insight emanating from a woman’s binah yi’seira, and it was that heightened understanding that ultimately convinced her father that she was in the right. Subsequently, Amram remarries Yocheved, all the others once again follow suit, and the Jewish family unit has been restored. And it was all due to the young Miriam.

So that’s all it took. A bit of binah yi’seira and but a few heartfelt words and Miriam’s greatness has been forever sealed. It was she who engendered the birth of Moshe and she who helped foster the salvation of the Jewish savior as she stood guard by the river and ran to find Yocheved, the most suitable nurse for her brother Moshe. And thus the redemption all started with but a few words (and a tad more) that enabled a Moshe Rabbeinu to be brought into the world and head towards his destiny.

This same Miriam would then follow her brother’s lead at their next encounter by water, but this time it would be decades later at Yam Suf. The awesome miracle of the splitting of the sea provided the backdrop for shiras ha’yam, as Moshe breaks out in the impassioned song of “Az yashir.” Immediately on his heels, Miriam responds and leads the Jewish women in song and music, as we witness the ultimate manifestation of her koach ha’dibbbur. This time around, her potent power of speech produced the greatest manifestation of unbridled dibbur as the pure mouth of a pious Miriam sings shira to HaKB”H.

In contrast to his sister, Moshe essentially began as one who did not “speak words,” proclaiming to HaKB”H that “lo ish devarim anochi” (Shemos, 4:10). Interesting to note is that his only sin- the one that disallowed him entry into Eretz Yisroel- came as a result of not speaking words when he should have; concerning the error of Mei Meriva, he hit the rock instead of speaking to it.

From Redemption and Shira to Lashon Hara and Tikkun

Let us now quickly turn our attention to the following: It was, we have seen, only through the bold words of Miriam that the birth of Moshe was made possible; she succeeded in restoring the Jewish family and her filial concerns, in turn, saved the entire Jewish people. Her words brought about her greatness– but they also brought about her single sin. The same Miriam, so concerned with the preservation of the family unit, displays that concern once again with regard to the marital relationship of Moshe and Tziporah. And why not? Last time around, Miriam’s bold words to restore a marital relationship produced a Moshe and enabled the redemption; perhaps it was her place, here as well, to ensure that the current “gadol hador” maintain the normative marital relationship for all to follow suit. This time, however, she errs with her power of speech and the result is lashon hara against the greatest of all prophets. Her punishment? She is sequestered outside the camp with no one to speak to, and she is only cured when, alas, her brother- the man of but a few words- comes forward to pray with, what else, but just a few succinct words…

The power of speech is oh so precious, but extreme vigilance is required to ensure that we use it at the proper time and place, and that we do our utmost to choose just the right words. Especially over the course of a Yom Tov the Arizal writes is all about “peh sach,” when the mouth does a lot of talking- when speech, sippur, and hallel (and eating, of course) are the order of the day- how cautious we must be to watch every word that comes out of our mouths. Let us learn from a Miriam how powerful but a few words can be, how they can do both so much positive and negative, how they can trigger a redemption while also giving rise to a leprosy likened to death, and let us make this “Peh Sach” a truly unforgettable one for years to come.