Only when Miriam leads the women in exuberant praise do we learn her name and her position as a prophetess in Israel. Thus the Torah underscores the importance of zerizut—enthusiasm or zeal.
It is one thing to experience God’s mercy and deliverance, quite another to recognize them and respond with the zeal they deserve. This zeal often shows up as something extra, something added to the normal and expected response. So Moses and b’nei Yisrael, the sons of Israel, sing Shirat HaYam, the song at the sea, in praise of God’s deliverance, which of course is fitting and appropriate and the least they should do after witnessing his outstretched hand and mighty arm. And then Miriam leads the women, who might be considered exempt at this moment since their fathers and husbands—the sons of Israel—have already done a good job of praising the Lord, and ramps up the praise. They repeat the first line of the song at the sea and they add timbrels and dancing and their own female voices to magnify the praise that Hashem receives.
Upon this display of enthusiasm, Miriam is recognized as a prophetess in Israel, one of only seven throughout the whole Tanakh (Meg. 14a–b).
My work with the UMJC includes coordinating the efforts of our committee chairs and regional directors. Everyone in these positions serves as a volunteer out of dedication to Messiah and the Messianic Jewish community, and I appreciate them all. But it is especially encouraging when someone tackles his or her assignment with zeal. It’s one thing to get the job done, but quite another to get it done with enthusiasm—practicing this middah elevates the climate for everyone.
Perhaps as a prophetess Miriam foresees that her fellow Israelites are going to be less than enthusiastic throughout most of their time in the wilderness. Indeed, before the chapter of the song at the sea, Exodus 15, closes, our ancestors start kvetching—“they traveled three days in the wilderness and found no water. . . And the people grumbled against Moses” (Ex. 15:22–24)—and they rarely stop kvetching for long after that. Miriam’s over-the-top enthusiasm provides the antidote to kvetching, however, and is surely an encouragement to the heart of Hashem. It’s a middah we do well to learn ourselves.