Contemplating Hebrew Letters || Mem




     When the Pharaoh’s cavalry came with his chariots and horsemen into the sea and God turned back the waters of the sea upon them, the Children of Israel walked on the dry land amid the sea. Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took her drum in her hand, and all the women went forth with drums and with dances. Miriam spoke up to them, “Sing to God, for He is exalted above the arrogant, having hurled horse with its rider into the sea.”


Exodus 15:19–21

Miriam is one of the first female leaders in history, and specifically one of the first leaders of women. The scene described above takes place as the Jews are running out of Egypt to escape slavery, with Moses as their leader. When they come to the banks of the water and see the Pharaoh’s army gaining on them in the distance, Moses performs the miracle of splitting the sea, and they’re able to run on dry land. But when the last of the Jews has reached safety, the seas close back up, drowning the Pharaoh and all of his men and horses. When the people see this miraculous sight and realize that they’ve been saved yet again, they break out in song, and Miriam leads the women in their own unique celebration.

Miriam is called the “brother of Aaron” here to emphasize that even before their youngest brother, Moses, the epitome of prophecy, was born, Miriam herself had prophetic ability. In fact, some commentators say that it was Miriam who was responsible for Moses’ birth in the first place. We know that she was the one to watch over his wicker basket on the banks of the Nile when the Pharaoh’s daughter found him there, thus ensuring his safety—but did you know that without her there would have been no baby at all?

Miriam was six years old when her parents separated. The Pharaoh had decreed that all male babies born into Hebrew families would be thrown into the river to drown, whereas female babies could live. This was to ensure that the Pharaoh would remain a stronger dictator with less opposition.

Jochebed and Amram (along with many other couples) separated rather than take the risk of creating a child who would be condemned to a cruel death. Yet Miriam convinced her parents to remarry, arguing that the Pharaoh may have decreed against the boys, but by giving in to fear, Jochebed and Amram were in fact preventing even girls from being born. Furthermore, she’d seen into the future, and she knew before he was even conceived that Moses would be the savior of their people.

So it’s because of his big sister that Moses was born, that he didn’t drown in the river, and that he was adopted into the house of the Pharaoh, where he gained the leadership skills he’d need to become the leader of the Exodus.

Because of her unique gift of intuition from such an early age, Miriam was well loved among her people. And because she advocated that females take control of the situation, encouraging young wives to defy the Pharaoh’s decree and continue to build their families, she’s associated with the women’s movement in its earliest stages. Feminists today place a Cup for Miriam alongside Elijah’s at the Passover Seder table, symbolizing the many different kinds of salvation that exist for many different kinds of people.

The letter Mem is often associated with water (mayyim), and it’s no coincidence that as they traveled in the desert, the Jewish people were accompanied by a miraculous wandering well of water given to them in the merit of Miriam’s actions. When she died, the well dried up, signifying her crucial contribution to the sustenance of a desperate people.

Miriam represents the life force that drives us all. In the same way that we need water to live, we need to be able to rejoice in the miracles of life, singing and dancing when good things happen to us; but we also need to persevere in the difficult times, pressing on with life in the most dire of circumstances. These are the lessons that we, women and men alike, can learn from Miriam the Prophetess.


The Mem card represents leadership. As a small child, Miriam recognized her own definition of justice and stood up for her family’s rights, thus making the best of a bad situation and ultimately helping to resolve it. We all have an element of leadership within us, even as small children. The key is to recognize our potential and claim it.

Whether it’s leading people in song during a difficult time or providing the equivalent of much-needed water in the desert, there’s always a way to take charge and help improve the lives of others. Use this card to meditate on the ways in which you could better realize your leadership potential in any aspect of your life.

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