Miriam

59”x50” oil on canvas/wood 1997

Miriam, the sister of Moses, was a prophet in whose merit the Israelites in the desert were permitted to have water as long as she lived. A miraculous well accompanied Miriam and the congregation of Israel as they traveled through the desert. When Miriam died, the well dried up.

Water, which is equated with mercy, is a metaphor for Miriam’s lifelong compassion. It was Miriam who kept watch over the infant Moses when his mother hid him in the bulrushes of the Nile river and it was Miriam, along with her mother, who acted as midwife to the women of Israel and defied Pharaoh’s decree to kill all their male children. The painting of Miriam shows her in the midst of a waterfall, encompassed by streams of water.

The Biblical narrative of the death of Miriam follows immediately after the section which tells about the Red Heifer (seen in the top lunette). Rashi, the medieval sage, explains the link by comparing the sacrifice of the Red Heifer, (whose ashes were ritually used to keep the children of Israel free from sin), with the death of Miriam, whose righteousness helped to atone for the collective sins of the people.

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