We don’t know a lot about the content of Miriam’s song after the Israelites passed through the sea, nor the dance the women did with their timbrels, but it is clear that they had their timbrels with them in this miraculous moment. On some level, the women knew (or maybe just hoped) that Moses was right, and there was a higher power who would safely lead them out of Egypt, and that their communal slavery was ending for good. They knew freedom was imminent, and it required joyful celebration with music.
They left in such haste that they didn’t do many things (perhaps most famously, letting their bread bake to completion) and yet the women remembered their timbrels. They made an intentional choice to take their timbrels along in their precious and limited cargo space. I like to imagine a few women running among the Israelites saying, “don’t forget your timbrel!” as they busily prepared to flee Egypt.
After this past year of the pandemic, how many of us know where to find our timbrels? Perhaps this is a literal instrument or perhaps it is symbolic of being able to find joy amid hardship and a core belief that better times await.
I like to think that Miriam and the women of the exodus set the stage for us. That women everywhere have this instinct to know that things will get better and that Hashem will provide for us. That this keeps us going when times get tough and it is hard to focus on the future. That we can all channel the first prophetess in our own trying times. Most of all, that we always have faith enough to pack our proverbial timbrel and the freedom to find joy.
Rabba Melissa Scholten-Gutierrez is the Jewish Camp Initiative manager at Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta.