middot enthusiasm torah over-the-top enthusiasm

over-the-top enthusiasm

Written by  rabbi russ resnik

art-songseaThen Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her in dance with timbrels.
And Miriam chanted for them:
Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously;
Horse and driver He has hurled into the sea.
(Exodus 15:20–21)

When Miriam leads the women of Israel at the parting of the sea in praising Hashem with song and dance, she is making her second appearance in the Exodus story. In her first scene, Miriam is instrumental in rescuing the baby Moses after his parents are forced to set him adrift on the waters of the Nile. She has the courage to watch over her brother’s journey in his tiny ark, and the chutzpah to approach the daughter of Pharaoh and suggest a plan that saves his life. Miriam’s act of saving Moses is essential to the entire drama that follows, but throughout this scene she’s just called “his sister” or “the girl” (Ex. 2:4, 7–9).

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.

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