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Miriam’s Drum

Miriam’s Drum

Turning pain into power


Some years back, I lost my voice during a weekend retreat. Problem was, I was the guest speaker. I had arrived after getting over a bad cold. Friday night went fine, but by the morning, I could see trouble ahead. Lunch was held outdoors beside a fountain that gushed with enthusiasm. A perfect setting for a gathering of women. Only problem was, I now had to project outdoors and tackle the bubbling water to boot. By the time Saturday night came, I was hoarse. Yes, I’d have the help of a mike—but louder than silent is still silent.

A friend approached me and said, “Shimona, I have some olive tincture with me. It’s good for voice problems. Can I give you some?” I nodded enthusiastically, and Hinda came back some minutes later with a small vial.

I do herbs regularly. Echinacea, borage, horsetail . . . the list goes on. And I know that some are starkly bitter, but the deal is: drop in the liquid and down it with some water. That’s what I was expecting with the olive tincture. Some mistake! I could not have imagined the punch it packed. My throat rebelled, coughed out the liquid, and had to be coaxed into drinking down a second serving. Remarkably, the potion worked.

At that moment, I came to understand Miriam the prophetess in a whole new way. The seven species of the Holy Land are associated with the seven prophetesses—Devorah, for example, with dates, and Miriam with the bitter olive. The circumstances of her life make it abundantly clear why.

One of the women who profoundly prepared the world for the Messianic era was the prophetess Miriam. When the Jewish people crossed the Sea of Reeds, “Moses and the children of Israel sang this song to G‑d,”1 and then “Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took the drum in her hand. All the women followed her with drums and dancing. Miriam led them in the response, ‘Sing to G‑d for His victory is great, He has cast horse and rider into the sea . . .’”2 From the fact that the women used musical instruments and danced in accompaniment to their song, we understand that their song sprang from a well of deeper joy, and was of a higher caliber, than that of the men. And it wasn’t by chance that they had their instruments with them. In fact, “the righteous women of the generation were so confident that G‑d would perform miracles for them that they took their drums with them from Egypt” in anticipation of the celebration.3

Why, though, was their song characterized by greater joy than that of the men?

Their song sprang from a well of deeper joy The answer is alluded to in Miriam’s name, which, as in all cases, captures the essence of the person. She was named al shem hamirur,4 “for the bitterness” of the exile. It was from the time of Miriam’s birth that “the Egyptians began to make the Israelites do labor designated to break their bodies and embittered their lives with harsh labor . . . intended to break them.”5 This continued for five years, until Moses was born, and then for an additional eighty6 years until the Exodus. With her birth, the Holy One, Blessed Be He established a redeemer—Miriam,7 named for the bitterness.8

Strange, no? She is named for the bitterness, and yet is the forebear of the Redemption. Pain and salvation are opposites. Yet Miriam was capable of bringing about deliverance precisely because she felt the pain of exile more than anyone else.

She had anticipated the Redemption from early childhood. On the verse, “Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took the drum in her hand,” our sages note that she is referred to as “the sister of Aaron and not Moses. She prophesied when she was still only the sister of Aaron—and Moses had not yet been born! She said, ‘In the future, my mother will give birth to a son who will redeem Israel’ . . . When Moses was thrown into the water, her father stood up and tapped her on the head. He said to her, ‘My daughter, where is your prophecy now?’ That is why ‘[Miriam] stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.’”9 The primary aspect of her prophecy was concerning the Redemption, not just the birth of Moses, and thus she waited with bated breath to see what would be. The more the exile continued, the more pained she became.

Ironically, it was as a result of the bitterness and longing of the Jewish people that they merited to be redeemed. And the greater the bitterness over their condition, the greater was their joy at the Crossing of the Sea. “In proportion to the pain is the reward.” Therefore it was Miriam and the women—those who had suffered most deeply—who went out with drums and dancing.

They were freed from their fear of their oppressors This explains why, in describing Miriam at the Sea, the Torah calls her “Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron.” It was only when the Jewish people saw the Egyptians dead on the beach, and they were freed from their fear of their oppressors, that Miriam’s prophecy was fulfilled in its entirety. At that time, their joy reached its height—and could find full expression only in a song accompanied by instruments and dance.

Women of our generation must model themselves on those of Miriam and hers. It is the women, in particular, who must instill within themselves the certainty that we will be redeemed. We should be so clear on this that even right now, during the last moments of exile, the women begin singing and drumming and dancing in anticipation of the redemption that is upon us.

Certainly, we must feel the pain of the exile and plead with G‑d to take us out—but even that pain must be permeated with the kind of joy that needs to be expressed in song and dance. If we can accomplish this within ourselves, the world will be launched into a global consciousness of liberation. We will then sing the highest of songs, for the era after which there will be only full life and joy.

Adapted from Sefer HaSichot 5752, Parshat Bo-Beshalach


Ibid. 15:20–21.


Rashi ibid.


Shemot Rabbah 26; Shir HaShirim Rabbah 2:11.


Miriam was 86 when our people left Egypt. Moses was born on 7 Adar, at which time she was five years old. She turned six just one month later, on 10 Nissan; and we left Egypt on 15 Nissan, when Moses was 80 and Miriam had already turned 86. Her age equals the numerical value of the name Elokim, which attests to the harsher or more judgmental attributes of the Creator. Both her name and her age at the time of the Exodus bear witness to the depths of our suffering.


Moses is usually called the redeemer. But his sister Miriam was the cause of his birth, and thus was the ultimate redeemer.


Miriam is the matriarch of Jewish royalty. King David, and ultimately Moshiach, descend from her.


Talmud, Megillah 11a.

Shimona Tzukernik is the creator of The Method, a therapeutic application of Kabbalah for individuals and corporations seeking spiritually based transformation. Known as “The Kabbalah Coach,” she has counseled hundreds of individuals, and now offers coaching certification in The Method. She is also an internationally recognized speaker and author for the Rohr JLI. Shimona has been featured in media around the world including a documentary by National Geographic and NickMom’s “Take Me to your Mother.”
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Anonymous Boston, MA April 26, 2016

The Unknowable Head; Women = Time; Netach, Hod; Bitachon, Emunah Basically, I don't are some thoughts:

The drum of Miriam is probably connected to time. Women have a special intrinsic relationship to time, according to Kabbalah. Drums seem to me to have this as well.

Miriam-chochmoh, the fountain of wisdom.

Fountain of wisdom- apparently in addition to the existing spiritual "entity", it is also something Avraham Avinu, chessed, wrote.

Rabbi Yitzhack Ginsburg says-Avraham, connected to chessed, got his wisdom (Chochmoh) from it flowing out of his kidneys. Kidneys= netzach and hod. Also they're the routes to prophecy. Also rested above the entranceway of the Kodesh Kodashim, as the 2 cherubs.

I've seen mem connected to Binah. Like the womb, from kabbalah. Maybe an overarching all inclusive meaning of the drum is that wisdom has it's time, and perhaps this is one reason why women gevura-to restraining chessed, in order to nourish the recipient (or see to it that the wisdom has a proper dwelling).

Emunah, Bitachon, keter Reply

Anonymous Jerusalem, Israel July 3, 2011

Miriam's Drum I appreciated the article and the comments about Miriam. It answered my question of why Miriam is named as the brother of Aaron and not the brother of Moshe as well as my question of why the women took their drums with them when leaving Egypt. I still have the question about the order in which the people left Egypt. Did the women walk by themselves ahead or behind the men? Where were the men in the order? Reply

Shimona Tzukernik NY, USA July 1, 2011

Thank you Nechama Shalom,

Your words touched me in a deep way. Thank you. It is my prvilege to learn with Jewish women. I receive so much. H-shem has blessed me to do what I love most in life.

May you go from strength to strength in your studies and avoda.

Shimona Reply

nechama brooklyn, ny June 27, 2011

Morah Tzukernik,
I love the way this piece was written. As I read,I can hear your voice and distinct accent in each phrase. Best of all, the message is empowering and uplifting.Thank you for enabling us to learn about the concepts of Moshiach in such a beautiful way. Reply

Mia Sherwood Landau Sherman, TX January 10, 2011

Great article! Thanks for this article, so clear and timely. I have used a "timbrel" in my private worship for years, and known that the skin stretched over a frame is symbolic of my own. Reaching into the past and stretching into the future, women are the repository of past wisdom and harbingers of the future. Men are much more in the moment, that's their purpose and function, and that's why women and men often have distinclty different viewpoints. I love the way you reveal Miriam's purpose in scripture for us all. Reply

Chanie Belinow S.P., Brazil February 7, 2009

Beautiful! Reply

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