When confronted with pain, we have three choices. We can pretend it isn’t there and think about something else—simple escapism. We can dwell on it without doing anything about it—though that can lead to depression. Or we can recognize it as a sign that something isn’t what it’s supposed to be—and seek to fix it.

The first choice will most likely result only in having to face a much deeper pain later on. The second choice is also a type of escapism—not from the reality that pain exists, but rather from the hope that things might get better. Denying hope also allows us to deny any personal responsibility in making change happen. Depression doesn’t require any energy. It doesn’t inspire change or even minimal movement of any kind. It tends more towards creating couch potatoes and other modern-day hermits.

Depression doesn’t require any energy

The third choice—recognizing pain—is fundamental in seeking a remedy, even though that step is often experienced as a sense of bitterness. Particularly when confronting a deep pain, something that touches our core. It isn’t something we can just brush past, but it also isn’t something we want to stay. So confronting it can lead to either depression or bitterness. Granted, bitterness is a negative emotional reaction, but it is infinitely superior to depression. That’s because bitterness, unlike depression, moves. It may not always move us along the most pleasant path, but it moves. It has life.

It has also, somewhere deep within it, hope. A sense that the source of pain is a temporary state of brokenness, something that can and will be healed. A sense that pain is something to which we are not meant to passively resign ourselves, but rather something to eradicate at its root.

Miriam carried that idea within her, engraved on her very essence and expressed in her name, a name whose essential root means both “bitter” and “rebellion.”


She knew how and where to direct that movement. At age 6, she confronted her father and admonished him to remarry her mother—a union that led to the birth of our greatest prophet, Moses. She continued to admonish, advise, comfort and inspire the Jewish people, from newborn infants to seasoned leaders, through the last, most bitter, difficult years of the exile and beyond.

She was a rebel with a cause.

Her life was one of confronting all that was bitter and harsh in this world, and sweetening it with the knowledge of where it was leading.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe often emphasized that the pattern of exile and redemption, the waxing and waning that characterize Jewish history, is not by chance. Its purpose is to bring us to greater Divine service, and the greater revelation and joy that will result from that. Miriam saw that, and the women of her generation embraced her vision and joined her in resistance, and later, in song.

This is the secret of why we remember the song that the women, under Miriam’s leadership, sang at the sea. (In fact, even the song of the men is referred to as a shirah, the feminine form of the Hebrew word for “song.”) Our sages, in an introduction to King Solomon’s Song of Songs, taught that the song at the sea—and each of the nine songs of redemption sung prior to the final redemption—were sung with the knowledge that the redemption itself was leading, or giving birth, to a future exile. This is why they are all referred to in the feminine, shirah, out of sensitivity that for women our greatest joys are often accompanied by pain.

The women of her generation embraced her vision and joined her in resistance, and later, in song

Yet that sad knowledge of future exiles carries with it another message. Implicit in that knowledge is the trust in future redemption since tradition has always taught us that one day a redemption will come that will not be followed by further exile.

This is the joy tinged with sorrow which in itself is hinting at a greater joy to follow.

And so, we recognize the essentially feminine character of the song at the sea. Not only because the women experienced the pain of exile and the yearning for redemption more deeply than the men, but because in a world of mixed messages, it is women more than men who see that each exile itself is leading to a deeper redemption.

When our Sages compare the time just before the coming of Moshiach to birthpangs, men have to stop and think about what that means. Women don’t. The idea of an intense pain being a source of great joy—not merely being followed by joy, but being a process of creating that joy—is instinctive to a woman’s psyche.

Miriam nurtured that instinctive idea, that impulse to rejoice, in the women of her generation until it matured into an active anticipation of the exodus from Egypt. The women were a source of strength and hope for their husbands and children, precisely because they felt the harshness of the exile and slavery, and yet knew where it was heading. They made tambourines and composed dances. Even while deep in the pain of exile, they prepared to celebrate their nation’s birth.

Ultimately, that ability to see the joy and the completeness to which the current state of our world is giving birth, and to rebel accordingly, is the secret to bringing these labor pangs to a fruitful end.