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Comfort Zone

Comfort Zone

Lessons from Miriam

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We all have a comfort zone. I know I do. And let me tell you, it's the best I've ever had -- spacious and well protected with an inner warning system that will alert me to experiences that will threaten my sense of well-being.

This isn't my first comfort zone, not by any means. I've had many, beginning in my childhood, and I've been evicted from all of them. But not this one. I did one good job when I erected it. When I turned sixty-one I said, "Enough is enough! It's been a long haul, sometimes difficult. I've overcome obstacles like crazy and vanquished fears. No more! Time for a well-deserved rest!"

I'm just tired of dealing with my fears, that's allOf course, all of my fears haven't been vanquished. I'm just tired of dealing with them, that's all. No one would think any less of me if I hid within my safety net with a box of chocolates, would they? Nah. Surely not. After all, there must be lots of people out there that can relate to my inclination to cocoon. There must be people out there who, like me, are simply tired of having their insides all tied up in knots at the thought of yet another challenge. Let's face it; there are probably a lot of people that simply don't want to do simple things because life for them involves unacceptable risks.

Yes, life is risky, there's no doubt about it. No matter what we do there's always a certain amount of danger, physical or emotional, not to mention spiritual. We encounter it daily. But there are those that ignore the hazards and engage the world. What kind of a person would do that? What kind of a person would willingly take risks, jeopardizing the status quo? What kind of a person would have the strength to break free of her comfort zone in a world that threatens the very survival of risk-takers?

Miriam the Prophetess, that's who. You know who I mean, don't you? Big sister to Moses, a woman who was a laudable teacher in her own right. And what a teacher she was. I've learned from her, big time.

Miriam's life may be a bit sketchy, not taking up a lot of space within our Torah. But the space that she does take up is powerful. She was a woman of strength and resolve. Now I wonder if she ever had a comfort zone? Perhaps she did. Only she didn't make it a permanent residence, that's all. She didn't give into all the fear that had to be so much a part of life back in the narrow places of Egypt.

Think back. Remember when Pharaoh decreed that all Hebrew male babies had to be thrown into the Nile? Remember when he ordered two midwives to kill all the male infants that emerged from their mothers wombs'? Remember how those midwives defied Pharaoh? And of course, we all know who they were. Their names were written in the Talmud, their strength delineated within those holy pages. They were Jochebed and Miriam, both operating under aliases. According to our sages, Miriam was called Puah because she defied Pharoah, telling him that G‑d would settle all accounts. And her mother was called Shifra because she used to "smooth over her daughter's impudence." No babies died at their hands. Not one. And that enraged Pharaoh, but then again, Pharaoh was always enraged, wasn't he? Couldn't accept the fact that the Hebrew population was increasing, that it hadn't disappeared. Sound familiar?

Miriam must have spoken with great authority Pharaoh's rage increased right along with the Jewish population and it was a fearsome thing, a fire-spitting kind of rage. How could anyone dare to fight the sovereign ruler of Egypt? Impossible. Our people were suffocated by fear and Amram, the husband of Jochebed, father of Miriam, was no exception. He separated from his wife. He would take no chance at impregnating her, would take no chance in having her give birth to a male, only to have him drowned. And the men within the community followed his lead. But Miriam would not countenance her father's reaction. She told him, according to our Sages, that "he was more cruel than Pharaoh." And she went on to explain that Pharaoh had only decreed against the males in this world, while her father's action affected both male and female in this world as well as the World to Come. And it was then, according to our Sages, that the young girl prophesied, saying that her mother was destined to give birth to a child that would save Israel from Egypt.

Miriam must have spoken with great authority because her father listened and remarried his wife. And of course, since Amram was a leader within the community, the other men followed suit and returned to their wives.

It stands to reason that after all those remarriages, a lot of births followed, including one in Amram's household. Moses was born, but Pharaoh's decree was still standing. In order for Moses' life to be saved, he had to be hidden. And he was, of course, within an ark of bulrushes that floated on the Nile. And Miriam stood watch, waiting to see what would happen to the child. He was her brother, after all.

Yes, Miriam, the little girl that fled her comfort zone, took control of the situation once again. After watching Moses being scooped from the ark, and placed in the hands of Pharaoh's daughter, Miriam approached the woman and presented her plan. And it was a master plan. The infant could be nursed by a Hebrew woman, Jochebed, and returned to the royal princess as soon as he was weaned. The proposition was accepted. Moses grew up in an Egyptian household and Miriam slipped from the pages of our Torah until she stood at the Red Sea, leading the women in dance and song.

Do you see the pattern here? I think I do. Miriam broke free of her comfort zone, risked Pharaoh's anger as a five-year-old, but she did so in the presence of her mother who, as the Rabbis said, "smoothed things over." She then confronted her father, a father who loved her and posed no physical threat. After that, she prophesied Moses' destiny. It was in the last incident that Miriam was on her own. She arranged for the care of her brother, but in doing so, she had to approach Pharaoh's daughter, a woman who represented a very physical threat. Miriam could have been punished by death for her audacity. Yes, I can see a pattern. Miriam grew in strength, didn't she? Each action that she took seemed to pay dividends. Her abilities seemed to become more finely honed and her responsibilities greater, until she became the woman who warranted leading the Jewish women in song and dance at the shore of the Red Sea, and even later as the keeper of the well that nourished our people in the wilderness.

Was Miriam frightened when she made her stand in history?Was she frightened when she made her stand in history? I suspect that she was. And it was natural, wasn't it, all this fear? Though the difference between Miriam and so many others, including myself, is that she swallowed her fear and did what she had to do. That's what courage is, isn't it; acknowledging your fear, then doing what needs to be done.

When I look at Miriam's life, I try to find similarities within mine. Don't get me wrong. I'm not getting above myself. I'm simply trying to discern a similar pattern within my history. And doing this, I have to admit that it was all of those difficult moments, those moments when I willingly or unwillingly pushed the boundaries of my comfort zones and faced the fears and challenges that confronted me, that added up to the plusses in my life. Those moments gave me the strength to advance mini-steps up my rickety spiritual ladder. And it was the culmination of all those small steps, all that boundary pushing that gave me the strength and the ability to build yet more strength to create the woman I am today.

Admittedly, I am no Miriam. In fact I seem to slog a million miles behind her, but, at last, I'm trying to follow her lead. I'm at last learning that my comfort zone could very well morph into a prison, with fear standing guard, a prison that isolates me from the challenges that promote spiritual growth, of acquiring more strength and preventing me from serving G‑d where He needs me the most, in a world that is fraught with hardships and risks.

I learned this from Miriam, a woman who faced the challenges before her and helped to free a nation. She was a woman that we can all emulate, a woman that defined courage and followed the path of G‑dly service.

Dear G‑d, Creator of the ultimate comfort zone, grant me the strength of Miriam so that I can face the challenges in my life, knowing that it is these very challenges that offer opportunities to serve You as well as promote the growth that I so desperately need. Amen.

Sara Tzafona currently lives in north-central British Columbia, where she is working on various writing projects.
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Rishe Deitsch bklyn, NY January 30, 2012

love the article Well said! Brava! Reply

John Israel Robinson LasVegas, Nevada May 27, 2010

Comfort Zone It is only natural to want to live in a continual comfort zone, but there is no Faith
needed until we are pressed sometimes circumstancial Devine Destiny,brings us like Mirium to where we are either stand on our
princapals,very basic right and wrong.
If my mother did not have the 7th, child I would not be here, or if mum did not have the tenth child my little, big brother would not be here. Everything pritty much that is good and worthwhile in life always brings us thru the birthing pains to bring victory of right over wrong, never in the history of humanity was there a time of greater comfort for the masses of ordainary people
and yet we find that self indulgence,and selfish persuit of trivial things.
Devine realisation of the Will of G-d is most
experianced in the difficult chapters and situations we find ourselves faced with ,then the trial of our Faith more precious than Gold, Mirium knew the blessing and obediance to her heart and soul to G-d.
Obedience not easy Good. Reply

Ava NY, NY January 17, 2008

Whenever I'm in my comfort zone my yetzer hara, my gluttony sits on my shoulder I want more- more of everything. Yes, I can a do appreciate my serene, beautiful home, the loving people in my life, G-d's great gifts of sunshine, fresh air, and the time and the energy to enjoy them- but I have to wonder if that yetzer hara's prescence is not in fact also G-d's reminder to strive this very day to become more - to reproduce the joy I feel and beauty I see in a painting or to simply interact with someone and bring validation and G-d's guidance through the Torah into their life. G-d pushes us to develop into the best people that we can be whether we like it or not, I suspect- and it's a beautiful thing. Reply

Marie January 15, 2008

comfort zone as an older woman I struggle to stay in my comfort zone too. May I too see my challenges as a way to serve G-d. thanks for your words. Just what I needed to encourage me on Reply

Anonymous January 15, 2008

Strength of Miriam? Although I understand the place from which you write, I would prefer to pray to have the strength that G-d instilled in me, rather than the strength of any other. What if I am meant to have strength that looks different? What if G-d has sent me with even more strength thatn Miriam? Praying for the strength of Miriam feels as if I am emulating another -- envying her, rather than allowing for my unique abilities to shine brightly. Reply

rachel bowie, md January 14, 2008

cz I don't see this comfort zone as a cz but as the real thing...like a diamond...a sparkling time in one's life where the "real me", the "child" inside, shines forth.
May we all merit to find our comfort zone in life, like Miriam the prophetess ,who was famous for comforting children.
Thank you for this beautiful article! Reply

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