Written by Tamar Fox. Check out last week’s post in this series, Double Mitzvah – Bo.
The centerpiece of this week’s parsha is the crossing of the Red Sea and the poem that accompanies it. The Song of the Sea is lengthy and has been incorporated in full into Shacharit, so on Shabbat you can expect to read it at least twice. But immediately after the Song of the Sea we get to a different song, the song that Miriam and the women sang after Moses’ finished his. Miriam took up a timbrel, gathered her ladies and cut a rug, singing a very abbreviated song.
I love this moment because it always makes me see Miriam getting down on a dance floor to Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive, and also because it suggests that women dancing in public was not a shonda in the time of Moses and Miriam.
It’s weird to imagine that one can use one’s sexual energy to praise God. Certainly there are deep segments of the Jewish community that would like people to do away with their sexuality completely. But in this story, dancing–which, yes, I believe is intrinsically a sexual activity, though only mildly so–is channeled toward God. And crucially to the text, no one says boo about it. There is no backlash against Miriam for leading the ladies in a conga line for God. The text doesn’t imply any problem at all with Miriam’s activities, and it’s always a bit of a shock, and a huge relief, to see that the Torah is not as confused about modesty and privacy as the contemporary Jewish community is.
To be clear, Miriam did not lead a striptease for Hashem. She did not, according to the Torah, rip off her shirt in gratitude like Brandi Chastain (though I do think that’s awesome). She danced, channeling her sexual energy toward God. And yes, I believe it was beautiful and maybe even jewrotic, but everyone was able to keep their robes on and act like adults. And that’s what we need to expect of each other. We need to be able to experience some moments of slightly–or very–sexual joy in a religious setting and not be ejected from the room, or community.
Sexuality isn’t toxic and it isn’t a threat to Jewish life. Thanks to Miriam for the reminder!