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Miriam’s Song

Miriam’s Song

The womanly strain in the “Song at the Sea”


Miriam the prophetess ... took the tambourine in her hand; and all the women followed her with tambourines and dances.

And Miriam called to them: Sing to G‑d...

Exodus 15:20-21

We don't sing when we are frightened, despairing, sleepy, or after a heavy meal. We sing when we are pining after one whom we love, when we are yearning for better times, when we are celebrating an achievement or anticipating a revelation.

We don't sing when we are complacent. We sing when we are striving for something, or when we have tasted joy and are climbing it to the heavens.

Song is prayer, the endeavor to rise above the petty cares of life and cleave to one's source. Song is the quest for redemption.

The Midrash enumerates ten preeminent songs in the history of Israel -- ten occasions on which our experience of redemption found expression in melody and verse. The first nine were: the song sung on the night of the Exodus in Egypt (Isaiah 30:29), the "Song at the Sea" (Exodus 15:1-21), the "Song at the Well" (Numbers 21:17-20), Moses' song upon his completion of writing the Torah (Deuteronomy 32), the song with which Joshua stopped the sun (Joshua 10:12-13), Deborah's song (Judges 5), King David's song (II Samuel 22), the song at the dedication of the Holy Temple (Psalms 30), and King Solomon's Song of Songs extolling the love between the Divine Groom and His bride Israel.

The tenth song, says the Midrash, will be the shir chadash, the "New Song" of the ultimate redemption: a redemption that is global and absolute; a redemption that will annihilate all suffering, ignorance, jealousy, and hate from the face of the earth; a redemption of such proportions that the yearning it evokes, and the joy it brings, require a new song -- a completely new musical vocabulary -- to capture the voice of Creation's ultimate striving.


The most well known of the ten songs of redemption is Shirat HaYam, the "Song at the Sea" sung by Moses and the children of Israel upon their crossing of the Red Sea. We recite this song every day in our morning prayers, and publicly read it in the synagogue twice a year: on the seventh day of Passover (the anniversary of the splitting of the sea and the song's composition), and on a mid-winter Shabbat in the course of the annual Torah-reading cycle -- a Shabbat which is therefore distinguished with the name Shabbat Shirah, "Shabbat of Song."

The Song at the Sea praises G‑d for His miraculous redemption of Israel when He split the Red Sea for them and drowned the pursuing Egyptians in it, and expresses Israel's desire that G‑d lead them to their homeland and rest His presence amongst them in the Holy Temple. It concludes with a reference to the ultimate redemption, when "G‑d will reign for all eternity."

Actually, there are two versions of the Song at the Sea, a male version and a female version. After Moses and the children of Israel sang their song, "Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took the tambourine in her hand; and all the women followed her with tambourines and dances. And Miriam called to them: 'Sing to G‑d, for He is most exalted; horse and rider He cast in the sea...'"

The men sang, and then the women. The men sang, and then the women sang, danced, and tambourined. The men sang -- sang their joy over their deliverance, sang their yearning for a more perfect redemption -- but something was lacking. Something that only a woman's song could complete.

Feeling and Faith

Miriam, the elder sister of Moses and Aaron, presided over the female encore to the Song at the Sea. Miriam, whose name means "bitterness," because at the time of her birth the people of Israel entered the harshest phase of the Egyptian exile; Miriam, who when the infant Moses was placed in a basket at the banks of the Nile, "stood watch from afar, to see what would become of him" (Exodus 2:4).

For it was Miriam, with her deep well of feminine feeling, who truly experienced the bitterness of galut (exile and persecution). And it was Miriam, with her woman's capacity for endurance, perseverance, and hope, who stood a lonely watch over the tender, fledging life in a basket at the edge of a mammoth river; whose vigilance over what would become of him and his mission to bring redemption to her people never faltered.

The image of the young woman standing watch in the thicket of rushes at the edge of the Nile, the hope of redemption persevering against the bitterness of galut in her heart, evokes the image of another watching matriarch -- Rachel. As the prophet Jeremiah describes it, it is Rachel who, in her lonely grave on the road from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, weeps over her children's suffering in galut. It is she, more than the male patriarchs or leaders of Israel, who feels the depth of our pain; it is her intervention before G‑d, after theirs has failed, which brings the redemption.

Miriam and her chorus brought to the Song at the Sea the intensity of feeling and depth of faith unique to womankind. Their experience of the bitterness of galut had been far more intense than that of their menfolk, yet their faith had been stronger and more enduring. So their yearning for redemption had been that much more poignant, as was their joy over its realization and their striving towards its greater fulfillment.


The great Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria writes that the last generation before the coming of Moshiach is the reincarnation of the generation of the Exodus.

Today, as we stand at the threshold of the ultimate redemption, it is once again the woman whose song is the most poignant, whose tambourine is the most hopeful, whose dance is the most joyous. Today, as then, the redemption will be realized in the merit of righteous women. Today, as then, the woman's yearning for Moshiach -- a yearning which runs deeper than that of the man, and inspires and uplifts it -- forms the dominant strain in the melody of redemption.

Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson; adapted by Yanki Tauber.
Originally published in Week in Review.
Republished with the permission of If you wish to republish this article in a periodical, book, or website, please email
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Discussion (17)
May 27, 2013
Re: Where in the Torah
The sages of the Talmud (Berachot 24a) write that "The voice of a woman is Ervah [erotic]" as King Solomon writes in the Song of Songs: "Let me hear your voice because your voice is pleasant and appearance attractive.’” (2:14) According to halacha (Jewish law) a man is forbidden to listen to a woman sing (Code of Jewish Law, Even Ha'ezer 21:1) Some halachic authorities consider this a Torah prohibition, while according to others it is Rabbinic.

See Why Can't a Male Listen to a Female Singer for more on this topic.
Rochel Chein for
May 24, 2013
Suri? Where in Torah?
Where in Torah is it said that women may not sing within earshot of men? Where is the Commandment?
New York, New York
February 13, 2013
What is the source? Where can I see this Maamar in the original ? thanks
January 5, 2013
Citation, please (Thx)
Hello... can you please tell me where this is said:

"...the woman's yearning for Moshiach--a yearning which runs deeper than that of the man, and inspires and uplifts it--forms the dominant strain in the melody of redemption."

Thank you!
Avigayil Chana
Boston, MA
February 4, 2012
Women Singing
The singing of women is more than just incredibly beautiful music. It can also create thoughts in men in a manner similar to looking at pictures of women. In order to maintain morality and create fences of protection between men and women, one of the prohibitions that was enacted was that men should not listen to women singing.

Nowadays, in the Orthodox Jewish world, there are wonderful concerts and productions that are put on by women for women only. Women gifted with singing and musical talent have many outlets for their creativity. A few Orthodox Jewish women have even recorded musical albums, to be heard by women only.

This doesn't make women "inferior" to men in any way, shape or form. On the contrary, we are superior to men, since we can hear both men and women singing: men can only hear men singing. There is no oppression of women going on here.

Our rabbis say that the righteous women of today will be the ones who bring the final Redemption.
Far Rockaway, NY
January 13, 2011
Women & Chabad
To Bradford Dov: I concur with everything you've said; I couldn't have said it any better!

To Eric S. Kingston: Lovely! Thank you for making these points.

I, too, cherish and support and gain so much daily from Chabad. Thank G-d for The Rebbe!
As well as my Chabad rabbis here, that I truly feel are my spiritual friends, and have been nothing but a positive influence in my life.

But, I don't always agree with every conclusion or minhag (custom), though of course, I follow and observe the minhagim of the shul I'm standing or studying in at the time. Likewise, Chabad houses are warm and welcoming of all Jews and I always feel accepted.
Deborah Wodraska
St. Louis, MO
September 13, 2010
women singing
Sury has written that it's a commandment from G-d that women not sing within earshot of men.
Where in the Torah is that commandment?
Yerushalayim, Israel
March 31, 2010
Suri wrote: "It is a commandment from G-d that women should not sing within hearing range of a man"

Yeah, maybe men and women should live separate lives, the way G-d is separate from the world. But if this was true, who would save us from ourselves? You´ve got to have read it wrong...
NY, Brooklyn
October 6, 2008
re: Shirat Hayam female version
Do you know where I could hear this song being sung by women thanks
February 2, 2007
It is a commandment from G-d that women should not sing within hearing range of a man. You may not be used to this kind of lifestyle. However, an observant Jew accepts all of the commandments and doesn't have to put a stamp of approval on each of them. Could you imagine if all the soldiers in an army would have to approve of the general's orders? It would be utter chaos. That was what the world was like before the giving of the Torah. Let us thank Hashem for the guidance he gives us during every moment of our life. How blessed we are.
Suri Katz
Brooklyn, NY