By: Dr. Eli J. Schussheim

The survival of the Jewish Nation in Egypt is attributed to one little girl. The Talmud (Sota 12) relates the amazing “behind the scenes” story that made possible the continued survival of the Jewish people in Egypt. Miriam, then just a young child, spoke up boldly to her father, Amram, the head of the Sanhedrin and the highest rabbinic authority figure whom the entire nation obeyed. The background for that confrontation was Amram’s decision to divorce his wife, Yocheved, because of Pharaoh’s decree to drown all newborn male babies in the Nile River.

Amram’s decision was, at first glance, “logical.” He reasoned that it would be better to divorce his wife than to have children who were bound to be cruelly murdered by Pharaoh. Against that reasoning, the child Miriam came up with reasoning of her own. She told her father, essentially the leader of the Jewish nation at the time, that his decree was worse than Pharaoh’s! Pharaoh, she said, made a decree only about the males, while Amram, by deciding to divorce his wife, would bring about a total cessation of births, both males and females, thus condemning the Jewish people to extinction.

The young girl’s grave but unambiguous point made Amram rethink his decision and remarry his wife, Yocheved, setting the example for the rest of the Jewish people to follow suit.

One may wonder how a man of Amram’s great stature could have reached such a grave and fallacious decision – one that could have brought about the annihilation of the Jewish people. As head of the Sanhedrin, he was undoubtedly a wise man who carefully weighed and considered all his actions. How is it possible that his young daughter so clearly perceived what he did not?

The continuation of the Biblical story reveals some more about Miriam’s motivation. Scripture calls Miriam “Puah, the midwife,” because of her work in encouraging childbirth and tending to newborn Jewish babies. Later, it is she who goes out to check, with care and devotion, what has become of her brother, Moshe, and to ascertain that he is in the right hands. All these stories point to one consistent theme that characterized Miriam’s overarching mission to encourage childbirth among the Jews. She did not merely deliver eloquent homilies; rather, she acted, going everywhere personally in order to attain this lofty goal. This was the key to her incredible success for which she received eternal recognition in the Torah. 

What stood before her eyes, and what made her feel shocked by her father’s decision, was the motherly instinct implanted within her by the Almighty. While Amram sought, with male logic, ways to prevent the killing of Jewish children, Miriam was thinking in exactly the opposite way – seeking ways to increase childbirth. The difference between the two approaches is rooted in Miriam’s loyalty to her role of “mother,” a role which Gd implanted within the very nature of women. Miriam’s simple emotion just could not grasp the possibility of stopping childbirth, or to kill babies before they are born, regardless of any logic that would underlie such an act. Miriam thus worked tirelessly to attain her goal as midwife, and it is her motherly instinct that drove her to take care of Israel’s leader – Moses – who would eventually redeem Israel from slavery.

We, too, in these difficult times, must brace ourselves and continue in the path paved for us by Miriam, strengthening the natural motherly instinct that exists within each and every woman. We must do whatever we can to increase the light of childbirth in all walks of the Jewish people. This light, which lifted the depressed spirit of the Jews in Egypt and which brought about its eventual redemption, is the light that will revive the spirit of the Jewish people today, and will bring about our redemption from all our tribulations speedily, in our days, Amen.

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