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The "Tefilat Geshem" ("Prayer for Rain") recited on Shemini 'Atzeret contains six verses. Each verse refers to a different person (except the last, which refers to a nation) and makes various allusions to that person's interactions with water found in the Torah and Midrash, with the prominent repetition of the word "mayim" ("water") throughout and ending each verse.

The subjects of the six verses are:

  • Avraham
  • Yitzchak
  • Ya'akov
  • Moshe
  • Aharon
  • The 12 Tribes of Israel

If there's anyone in the Torah+Midrash who's associated with water, Miriam is, as the well on which the Israelites depended for their water in the desert was called "the Water of Miriam" in the Midrash. One of her other claims to fame was "Song of Miriam," the version of the Song of the Sea that she led the women to sing on the banks of the Red Sea. She's also known for the vigil she stood over her baby brother Moshe, when he was hidden in the Nile.

Why isn't there a verse of Tefilat Geshem devoted to Miriam?

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There's a wonderful site, piyut.org.il , which gathers liturgical poetry, music and essays from many different Jewish communities. One essay by Ruth Gan Kagan (Israeli leader in Jewish Renewal movement) asks this same question. While she doesn't have any good historical explanation, a number of years ago she decided to write her own poem featuring 5 significant water-inspired Jewish women (Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, Miriam, Devora). She reports of a number of shuls which have integrated her poem into their Tefilat HaGeshem. piyut.org.il/articles/578.html – ChaimKut Oct 25 '12 at 14:26

Perhaps Miriam is alluded to in the verse יִחַד לֵב וְגָל אֶבֶן מִפִּי בְאֵר מַיִם

and also in the verse קוֹרֵא וּמַזֶּה טָהֳרַת *מַיִם ר*וּחַק מֵעַם פַּחַז כַּמָּיִם

Another thought: When Miriam was Nifteres it says that the water continued in the Zechus of Moshe who was still living. http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/112396/jewish/Miriam.htm

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Nice bio link. I'm re-using it in the question instead of Wikipedia. – Isaac Moses Feb 15 '12 at 20:44
These are nice ideas, but: 1) The hints would carry more weight if we had a source for them, and they still don't explain why the Biblical character perhaps most explicitly associated with water (and the merit that gets it for us) gets a hint rather than a verse. 2) Even if the water in the desert wasn't exclusively due to Miriam's merit, she still has a very strong association with it, and also with the other two episodes I mentioned - still at least as strong an association with water as the subjects of the other verses. – Isaac Moses Oct 12 '12 at 16:43
+1 I would say Miriam was over shadowed by Moshe. (Though no argument on her own greatness) – JNF Oct 16 '12 at 20:24

This is not a particularly satisfying answer, but I always assumed it was because she's female. While there exist some rare references to women elsewhere in Jewish liturgy, it's far more common practice to leave them out. (For example, I was quite struck that the imahot are included during yizkor -- it seemed unfamiliar after so many daily mentions of "Elokei Avraham, Elokei Yitzchak, v'Elokei Yaakov" alone.)

Ironic given that Hannah's prayer is such an acknowledged archetype for tefillah...

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This is possibly an answer to the OP's question, but note that the Imahot are not necessarily on the same level of historical/spiritual/religious significance as the Avot (in female form) just because they lived at the same time. So I don't know why you'd expect them to be listed together always. Perhaps women aren't included as often in the liturgy because historically there happen to be far fewer important ones to include. That's a historical fact, not a necessary truth. – Double AA Oct 14 '12 at 0:19
Kayla, welcome to Mi Yodeya, and thanks very much for this suggestion! You're right that the answer is not particularly satisfying as-is, but if we could find some source indicating that in fact, as a rule, women aren't mentioned in piyutim, and why, that would get us a long way toward answering this. Besides Yizkor, another exception to that apparent rule would be Esther, who shows up in the Krovetz for Purim, Shoshanat Ya'akov, and Selichot. – Isaac Moses Oct 14 '12 at 1:27
@DoubleAA We have a clear source that Sarah was at a higher spiritual level than Avraham (as pointed out by Rabbi Abba Wagensburg) as we find in Bereshis 21:12 Hashem instructs Avraham to listen to his wife. – chaimp Oct 14 '12 at 3:04
@Chaim I hope you're not just bringing that pasuk as the source, as there are all sorts of reasons God would tell a man to listen to someone else. Did R Wagensburg say anything more specific than that? – Double AA Oct 14 '12 at 3:48
@DoubleAA Our Sages of Blessed Memory say it explicity in Shmot Rabbah 1: "ויאמר אלהים אל אברהם: אל ירע בעיניך" וגו' (בראשית כא, יב ) מכאן אתה למד שהיה אברהם טפל לשרה בנביאות. "And G-d said unto Abraham: 'Let it not be grievous in thy sight [because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah saith unto thee, hearken unto her voice]" (Genesis 21:12) from here we learn that Avraham was subordinate to Sarah in prophesy." – ChaimKut Oct 18 '12 at 17:39

I think the paytan was working the other way. He had a list of holy 'shepherds' in who's zchus we beseach water, he filled in the stanzas with something about water concerning them all. This is very apparent from some of the forced associations. The one about Avraham is all poetic and nothing literal. Mentioning Moshe being thrown in the water seems strange. Mentioning his hitting of the rock is almost counterproductive! But looking at it the way I am mentioning, it all seems a little easier to swallow. As such Miriam who is never on our list of heros doesn't get mentioned, even if she is our greatest water heroine. I'm also guessing the shvatim are mentioned in place of Yosef Hatzadik.

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I was bothered about the mei meriva reference. Interesting suggestion. – Y ez Oct 21 '14 at 2:26
Why the shevatim in place of Yosef? "Remember the one who was cast into an empty pit, without water ..." – Isaac Moses Oct 21 '14 at 2:54
@Isaac Moses I was thinking that same thing! And the fact that he saved the world through a drought but at the end of the day he isn't there and the shvatim are. So I just through that in as conjecture along with the rest of the theory. – user6591 Oct 21 '14 at 2:58
@Isaac Moses It occurred to me that any mention of Yosef in the pit while being a wonderful sneigor for us in his memory, would also be a horrible kiteigor against us as far as the other brothers go. This might also preclude mentioning his presence in Mitzrayim at all. – user6591 Oct 21 '14 at 12:21

Perhaps one reason Miriam is absent is because her primary association with water is just TOO important.

Tefilat Geshem is a prayer for rain for the fields to prevent drought and famine in the land. For those without fields it is a Tefila for prosperity. And the author of this poem is using the merits of the usual pillars of Bnei Yisroel to beseech for Providence for Hashem's nation.

However the Be'er of Miriam provided a mobile drinking station for Bnei Yisroel and its flocks; which Hashem would have, and did provide with or without Miriam.

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I agree that it is due to the sex of miriam; unrolling the stone from off the well obviously refers to yaakov at the well, and the sprinkling of the water refers to the service in the mishkan by the kohen. by avoiding references to women, focus and kavana are kept 'on target'.

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Les, welcome to Mi Yodeya. Please consider registering your account, which will give you access to more of the site's features. Also, could you clarify your answer? "I agree" with whom? What does Miryam's sex have to do with rolling stones or with sprinkling water? Do you have a source for saying that avoiding references to women improves kavana, or for saying that that's the reason Miryam's not in this piyut? – msh210 Oct 14 '12 at 7:56

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