Parshat Beshalach contains a song of gratitude sung by the Jewish people after the miraculous splitting of Yam Suf. According to the peshat, Moshe led the men in singing Az Yashir, while Miriam led the women in a short song. However, one particular line points to the women’s involvement and leadership in Az Yashir as well.
The verse, “This is my God (zeh Eli) and I will glorify Him,” is interpreted as the peak of revelation for the Jewish people. Rashi interprets the word “this” to mean the people pointed to God’s glory. Rashi continues citing another midrash: the “maidservants saw at Yam Suf what even the prophets never saw,” meaning everyone, even the lowliest maidservant, received this highest level of revelation at Yam Suf.
Another midrashic tradition highlights the women’s unique ability to recognize God in challenging times. The Talmud teaches that in the merit of the “nashim tzidkaniyot” (righteous women), the Jews were redeemed from Egypt. These women bravely continued to give birth in the face of Pharaoh’s harsh decrees. They birthed their babies in the fields and had faith that God would protect the children. God performed miracles for them and provided angels to nurse them. As a reward for the righteous women’s actions and commitment, their children followed in their footsteps and were the first to recognize and point to God’s presence at the Sea and proclaim “Zeh Eli.”
This has been a challenging week in Israel, from the tragic loss of chayalim to continued disruptive covid wave. When we read Az Yashir, may it be a tefillah that when we God-willing one day cross to the other side of these uncertain waters, we can follow in the footsteps of the righteous women and children and say “Zeh Eli,” as we recognize God and express gratitude for our redemption. Shabbat Shalom – Karen Miller Jackson
*Miriam, by Sir Edward John Poynter from The Metropolitan Museum of Art