Chukat:Living waters

We need to stop, rest and drink deeply from living waters before continuing the arid wilderness we seem to have entered.

Rabbi Moshe Kempinski ,

Moshe Kempinski
Moshe Kempinski

Parshah: Chukat Numbers 19:1–22:1

At times we enter an arid wilderness unsure of direction and of what dangers lay before us. That is the situation before us in Israel with this unusual blend of a new government that does not seem to stand for anything except in being the new government, coupled with an ever increasingly hostile world, all this as we watch our direct enemies gaining strength and murderous will.

We need to learn to stop, rest and drink deeply from living waters before continuing the struggle.

In this week’s Torah portion, we read of the passing of Miriam, Moshe’s sister. ”Miriam died there and was buried there” (Numbers 20:1). The text is very short and curt, and her death is followed by another challenge for the people of Israel, As we read “there was no water for the people.” (Numbers 20:2).

Miriam is always connected to living waters.

In fact, her name is MIRIAM is made up of two Hebrew words. The word “Yam” means Ocean or Sea, and the word “Mar” alludes to bitterness.

The two words together highlight Miriam’s great spiritual strength.

The ability to sweeten Bitter Waters.

Miriam was called a prophetess even before we hear of any prophecy she utters.

”And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances.” (Exodus 15:20)

Why is she described in this fashion and where do we see its manifestation?

The midrash teaches "Why was her name Miriam? Because of the bitterness (mar). (Seder Olam Rabba 3)”.

The second part of her name Yam which translates as sea or waters.

That was the essential quality that made Miriam so impactful on the history of the people of Israel.

The Talmud (Massechet Taanit) teaches that there were three miraculous gifts bestowed upon the Israelites in the wilderness.

The first was the well of water which accompanied the people on their voyage, which came on account of Miriam.The second gift was the Clouds of Glory which came on account of Aaron, and the third was the Manna which came on account of Moshe.

Waters soothe and give life .

Waters refresh and rejuvenate.

Miriam was an unusual mixture of empathy and sensitivity. She felt the pain, the fears and the bitterness of those around her . She recognized and lived the Bitterness fully. Yet she had a clear intuitive faith in the promises of redemption and rebirth.

The Midrash in tractate Sotah describes the subtext of the text “A man of the house of Levi went and married a daughter of Levi.”.( Exodus 2:1) .Yet we are to learn that this couple already had two children, Aaron and Miriam.Why are we told that their marriage came before the birth of Moshe?

The midrash offers the thought, that when Pharaoh decreed that all baby boys would be thrown into the Nile, Amram and Yocheved the parents of Moshe decide to separate so as not to endanger any more children. When they did so, they were followed by most of the other Israelite couples. Desperation and hopelessness gripped the people and thrust them into despondency.

According to this midrash, Miriam approached her father and said, “your decree is worse than Pharaoh’s. Pharaoh decreed against the boys, you decreed against both boys and girls. Pharaoh decreed only in this world, you decreed in this world and the world to come. Pharaoh’s decree may be overturned, your decree (not having children at all) cannot be overturned.” Miriam convinced her father to remarry her mother, and so Moshe and subsequently many other children in many other families were born.

She continued to be the source of refreshing waters throughout the sojourn in the wilderness.

Regarding her prophetic ability, Miriam is listed among the seven Jewish prophetesses. This sense of "knowing" gave her the conviction stand before her parents and give them hope again.

It was also her prophetic awareness ,that gave her the understanding that her younger brother would lead the people of Israel into redemption.It was that faith that gave her the courage to stand by the bushes to watch over her little brother "And his sister stood from a distance to know what would happen to him. (Exodus 2:4). The words “to stand” denotes a surety of faith that comes with the "knowing" of prophetic insight. As the Midrash teaches “And she stood” – with Divine inspiration resting upon her. (Midrash – Mechilta d'Rabbi Yishmael).

It was that divine awareness that gave her the incredible courage to approach the daughter of Pharaoh with advice regarding the baby in the basket.

It also gave her the insight to prepare accordingly for their exodus from Egypt. The men of the Israelites were probably looking for the best walking apparel and carry bags to enter into the wilderness .Miriam, and her sisters , on the other hand, were gathering musical instruments. They simply "knew".

So Miriam represented the Living waters of hope and faith. That is why the miraculous well, that by tradition travelled with the people of Israel through their sojourn in the desert simply dried up when Miriam died.

After reading the painfully brief account of the death of Miriam;

”Miriam died there and was buried there” (Numbers 20:1), we read “there was no water for the people.” (ibid 2)

As the people arrive at Kadesh at the edge of the Desert of Zin and discover the lack of water they cry out:

“If only we had died when our brethren died before G d! Why have you brought the congregation of G d to this desert, to die there, us and our cattle? Why have you taken us out of Egypt—to bring us to this evil place?” (ibid 20:4-5)

Without the vision of Miriam the people fell again to despondency and fear.

People yearn for the calming nourishment of the water but forget the type of spirit and broad long distance vision that enabled the water to appear.

That vision and spirit was epitomized by Miriam.

She was quickly forgotten when people became engrossed in the difficulties of the here and now. They were so engrossed that they even neglected to mourn for her.

It is those nourishing swallows of water that a people or individuals trekking through their pathways of destiny need to have to gain the strength to go forward.

It is that water we need to look to as we enter the days ahead filled with great concern and unknown. Those living waters , though represented by Miraim, are sourced in a much Higher realm

In the book of Jeremiah we are reminded that Hashem is the source of all hope .

" Hashem is the hope (Mikveh) of Israel" (Jeremiah 17:13).

Yet the word for hope in the text is also the word for a ritual cleansing pool a Mikveh. the place of living waters.

Trust in that and the sojourn even through parched land will lead to the oasis of hope.

Lerefuat Yehudit Bat Golda Yocheved ve kol HaCholim