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Miriam HaNeviah

by Deborah Sacks Mintz

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about

In the 1980s, poet and liturgist Rabbi Leila Gal Berner composed a beautiful poetic midrash on one particular narrative moment we read in Exodus: Miriam’s role in leading the women of her community through the sea from the marginalization and oppression of slavery and into the unknown wilderness of freedom. An exploration of her beautiful poetry must begin with a framing of that very Exodus verse:

וַתִּקַּח֩ מִרְיָ֨ם הַנְּבִיאָ֜ה
אֲח֧וֹת אַהֲרֹ֛ן
אֶת־הַתֹּ֖ף בְּיָדָ֑הּ
וַתֵּצֶ֤אןָ כָֽל־הַנָּשִׁים֙ אַחֲרֶ֔יהָ
בְּתֻפִּ֖ים וּבִמְחֹלֹֽת׃

“Then Miriam the prophetess,
Aaron’s sister,
took a timbrel in her hand,
and all the women went out after her
in dance with timbrels”
(Exodus 15:20)

Her curiosity with this verse, combined with a desire to see women prophets and leaders recognized more broadly in ritual moments, drove her to compose the poem we today know as Miriam HaNeviah. Written with a rhythmic cadence designed to match the traditional Eliyahu HaNavi melody, her hope was to raise Miriam up in the moment of havdalah.

The lyrics to the poem itself highlight Miriam’s leadership as multi-faceted: strengthening the the world’s song through her dance, repairing the world through her song, and ultimately, bringing on the waters of redemption only with the partnership of the broader community.

I was deeply inspired by Rabbi Berner, as well as one of my collaborative colleagues Rabbi Ariel Root Wolpe, to continue this process of creative midrash by adding to the story R’ Berner began. She wrote a new text to be sung to a traditional melody, and I wrote a new melody to be sung to that very text. R’ Wolpe herself writes feminist poetry exploring the role of Miriam and, through the context of our hevruta studying women ancestral leaders in prayer and song, unearthed this new melody from inside my own heart and soul.

From a compositional standpoint, the chorus is the main event of this song. Reading “bimheira b’yameinu” - quickly, in our days - there is an urgency to the hope and prayer embedded in this poem for redemption, and thus the melody itself mirrors that urgency, ascending upwards on the word “bimheira.” Other compositional tactics I used regarding such manners of word-painting, include a dance-like groove underscoring each verse, in recognition of the repetition of the phrase “tirkod itanu - dance with us.”

But by far the most essential creative component of this song is that it was recorded exclusively with women. My artistic team for this recording consisted of Rabbi Ariel Root Wolpe, who I mentioned above, as well as Chava Mirel and Elana Arian, two of my long time musical partners who themselves have dedicated their lives in service to the Jewish people through composing, performing, and leading new Jewish music around the world - as both ritual leaders and as women, wives, and mothers. We all felt a deep connection to the women who came before us - including Miriam, as well as the women rabbis and musicians who have influenced our work and lives since - and poured this inspiration into the project. The lush harmonies in this recording are designed to be representative of the voices of generations of women in prayer, song, and leadership.

lyrics

מִרְיָם הַנְּבִיאָה עֹז וְזִמְרָה בְּיָדָהּ

בִּמְהֵרָה בְיָמֵינוּ הִיא תְּבִיאֵנ
אֶל מֵי הַיְשׁוּעָה

מִרְיָם תִּרְקֹד אִתָּנוּ לְהַגְדִּיל זִמְרַת עוֹלָם
מִרְיָם תִּרְקֹד אִתָּנוּ לְתַקֵּן אֶת-הָעוֹלָם

בִּמְהֵרָה בְיָמֵינוּ הִיא תְּבִיאֵנוּ
אֶל מֵי הַיְשׁוּעָה

𝑀𝑖𝑟𝑖𝑎𝑚 𝐻𝑎𝑁𝑒𝑣𝑖𝑎ℎ 𝑜𝑧 𝑣’𝑧𝑖𝑚𝑟𝑎 𝑏’𝑦𝑎𝑑𝑎ℎ (x2)
𝐵𝑖𝑚ℎ𝑒𝑖𝑟𝑎 𝑏’𝑦𝑎𝑚𝑒𝑖𝑛𝑢 ℎ𝑖 𝑡𝑒𝑣𝑖𝑒𝑖𝑛𝑢 𝑒𝑙 𝑚𝑒𝑖 ℎ𝑎𝑦𝑒𝑠ℎ𝑢𝑎 (x2)

𝑀𝑖𝑟𝑖𝑎𝑚, 𝑡𝑖𝑟𝑘𝑜𝑑 𝑖𝑡𝑎𝑛𝑢 𝑙’ℎ𝑎𝑔𝑑𝑖𝑙 𝑧𝑖𝑚𝑟𝑎𝑡 𝑜𝑙𝑎𝑚
𝑀𝑖𝑟𝑖𝑎𝑚, 𝑡𝑖𝑟𝑘𝑜𝑑 𝑖𝑡𝑎𝑛𝑢 𝑙’𝑡𝑎𝑘𝑒𝑖𝑛𝑛 𝑒𝑡 ℎ𝑎𝑜𝑙𝑎𝑚

𝐵𝑖𝑚ℎ𝑒𝑖𝑟𝑎 𝑏’𝑦𝑎𝑚𝑒𝑖𝑛𝑢 ℎ𝑖 𝑡𝑒𝑣𝑖𝑒𝑖𝑛𝑢 𝑒𝑙 𝑚𝑒𝑖 ℎ𝑎𝑦𝑒𝑠ℎ𝑢𝑎 (x2)

Miriam, the prophetess
strength and song are in her hands

Soon, and in our time, she will bring us
To the waters of redemption

Miriam will dance with us to strengthen the world’s song
Miriam will dance with us to heal the world

Soon, and in our time, she will bring us
To the waters of redemption

credits

released May 19, 2022
Music by Deborah Sacks Mintz
Text by Rabbi Leila Gal Berner
Produced by Deborah Sacks Mintz for Rising Song Records

Recorded at Home Bass Studio in Culver City, California in February 2022
Engineered by Gidon Shikler
Mixed and mastered by Don Godwin
Artwork by Nireh Or

Singers and Musicians:
Deborah Sacks Mintz - lead vocals
Chava Mirel - harmony vocals, guitar
Elana Arian - harmony vocals, violin, mandolin
Ariel Root Wolpe - harmony vocals

www.deborahsacksmintz.com
www.risingsong.org

A Project of Hadar's Rising Song Institute: Cultivating Jewish spiritual life through song.
Supported by The Program in Jewish Gender and Women’s Studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary

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Deborah Sacks Mintz New York, New York

An educator, practitioner, and facilitator of Jewish communal music and prayer, Rabbi Deborah Sacks Mintz supports those who seek to deepen, sharpen, and unlock their practice of empowered song and tefila. An artist and composer, she has collaborated on over two dozen albums of new Jewish music with treasured colleagues. She serves the Hadar Institute as Director of Tefillah and Music. ... more

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