Verses 20:1 and 20:2
The Well of Miriam
Reb Chaim Shmuelevitz
Chovos Halevavos in Shaar Habitachon
Coming Home to Zion, a Pictorial History of Pre-Israel Palestine by Abraham Shulman
וַיָּבֹ֣אוּ בְנֵֽי־יִ֠שְׂרָאֵ֠ל כׇּל־הָ֨עֵדָ֤ה מִדְבַּר־צִן֙ בַּחֹ֣דֶשׁ הָֽרִאשׁ֔וֹן וַיֵּ֥שֶׁב הָעָ֖ם בְּקָדֵ֑שׁ וַתָּ֤מׇת שָׁם֙ מִרְיָ֔ם וַתִּקָּבֵ֖ר שָֽׁם׃ The Israelites arrived in a body at the wilderness of Zin on the *first new moon Of the fortieth year; cf. Num. 33.36–38. and the people stayed at Kadesh. Miriam died there and was buried there.
וְלֹא־הָ֥יָה מַ֖יִם לָעֵדָ֑ה וַיִּקָּ֣הֲל֔וּ עַל־מֹשֶׁ֖ה וְעַֽל־אַהֲרֹֽן׃ The community was without water, and they joined against Moses and Aaron.
In Verse 1, 38 years have passed, and the Torah has moved the narrative to the 40th year in the desert. There was nothing of significance that happened during those 38 years other than the generation of the desert died out. The first event in the 40th year is the death of Miriam. The Torah is very cold in its description, Miriam dies and is buried. None of the emotional descriptions as when Aaron and Moshe died. Rashi adds color to her death that she was a righteous person, equal to that of her sibling and she also died by the kiss of God. It would have given Miriam’s death gravits, but the Torah chose not to because it is not proper to say God kissed a woman. We have to look into the Meforshim to find the greatness of Miriam. Verse 2 starts with a Vav Hachibur or as Rashi said the Smichos of the events tells us that there was no water because of the death of Miriam. Rashi explains that the well that supplied them water came in the merit of Miriam. Rabbinu Bachya further explains that the people had not appreciated this until the well ceased with Miriam’s death.
What was the merit of Miriam? It would seem it was her righteousness. However, as the Sifsei Chacomin asks, if it came because of her righteousness, why didn’t the water come in the merit of Moshe and Aaron, they were great Tzadikim. The Sifsie Chacomin and the Rabbinu Bachya answer that it was because of a specific action of Miriam, that when Moshe was put in a basket in the sea of reeds, she stayed with Moshe.
There is a question. Even if we did not have the merit of Miriam, Hashem would have provided the Jews in the desert with water. He would not take them in a desert without water. Why do we need the merit of Miriam?
We have three statements to consider based on these Pesukim:
1 – Miriam’s merit was not her righteousness, but her staying with Moshe when Moshe was put into the basket in the reed sea.
2 – Even without Miriam, the Jews would have had water. Hashem would have provided water.
3 – The nation did not appreciate Miriam – that through her water came. It was the absence of water that brought them to this realization that they needed to recognize Miriam’s contribution. In other words they did not show Hakaras Hatov. Lack of Hakaras Hatov leads to bad things. It led to a rebellion of sorts and Moshe and Aaron did not go into Israel. While you can argue that Hashem did not have to stop the water, but at the end of the day, the lack of gratitude caused bad things to happen.
Idea #1 is expounded in the below story from Rabbi Yaakov Haber, reprinted from his website.
A true story from the Six Day War:
Many areas of Jerusalem were being shelled, including Mea Shearim, which contained a number of yeshivot. The students of one of these, the famous Mir Yeshiva, just like everyone else, spent their time in a bomb shelter. They were praying, and learning, with great concentration, with the sounds of explosions around them all the time.
The shelter contained a number of people other than the members of the Yeshiva, and one of these, a woman, suddenly cried out: “L-rd of the universe! I have been married and divorced, and during my marriage, my husband treated me terribly for many years, abusing me and humiliating me in public. But now I’m prepared to forgive him, and I pray that You, L-rd, will then, similarly, forgive the Jewish people for whatever sins of theirs are causing this present suffering!”
The Rosh Yeshiva of Mir Yeshiva, Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz, one of the great Torah scholars of his generation, overheard this, and exclaimed: “If we get out of this alive, it will be on this woman’s merit!” And they did…
We can expand on these three statements:
Statement 1 and 2 explanation: Every Jew can be a merit and an inspiration for all their fellow Jews and the world. It is an individual righteous act that provides great benefits to the Jewish people. While Hashem would have provided water to the Jews of the desert, Hashem does it through the effort and the merit of man. We want to always do good and it should be through our efforts that individuals and the Jewish nation succeeds. We do not want our actions, even accidental, to produce negative results. At the end of our life we want to have a legacy. This is more of a universalist idea. What do the Tzadikim and Torah Scholars provide? We know that they protect a generation and their death is an atonement. However, individual acts by any Jew provides great benefits and salvation.
The Chovos Halevavos in Shaar Habitachon talks about having faith in God and that everything is directed through him. However, here is always a סובב ומסובב. A cause and an effect. The סובב is an action that a person does that results in a result. This is how Hashem deals with the world. We always want to be a סובב for good. This is what Miriam was. She was the סובב that brought water to the Jews in the desert. We want to be like Miriam bringing good to this world and we want this to be our legacy. We do not want the opposite, to the סובב for bad things to happen; e.g. cause a car accident, be the doctor that misses a diagnosis, make a mistake at work that causes a loss or someone to get fired.
Statement #3 Drahsa: The final idea is that we must always have proper Hakaras Hatov, gratitude to our fellow man. Miriam was the reason why the Jews of the desert had water and we have to properly appreciate her, which the people did not. I read a book, Coming Home to Zion – A Pictorial History of Pre-Israel Palestine which takes us through the history of the building up of Israel by the pioneers who came from 1882 to 1914. The book discusses the pioneers’ struggles, setbacks, and Mesiras Nefesh to create the foundation for the State of Israel. The land was inhospitable; they faced disease, swamps, and many other obstacles, yet they persevered. Their tireless efforts produced first the framework and then the actual State of Israel. We all owe the Hakaras Hatov, whether Frum, Charedi, leftist, secular, or recent immigrant to Israel. We cannot and should not dismiss these heroes. The problem I believe in Israel and the US is that we lack the capacity to give proper thanks.
To all this I want to add Martin Brody’s Torah on this week’s Parsha:
All three: Moshe, Aaron and Miriam taught us something about legacy.
Aaron’s death is reported at length, with great preparation and mourning. Part of that preparation is handing over the mantle of the Priesthood to his son and having the satisfaction of knowing his work will be continued.
Moses will die on the banks of the Jordan just shy of the goal, the Promised Land. Not everyone can cross the river, but as the sage R.Tarfon says in Pirkei Avot Chapter 2, you may not be able to finish the task, but you must not desist from trying.
Three different modes of legacy. What will yours be?
I retract that question. It’s inappropriate.
Instead, I ask myself, what will mine be?
Shabbat Shalom – Martin Brody
Another similar idea by Rabbis Stanley Wagner and Israel Drazin in the translation of Targum Onkelos:
Rabbi Stanley Wagner passed away in 2013.
This past Sunday I tracked down Rabbi Israel Drazin, who lives in Boca Raton, right near BRS.and spoke to him. He is 86 and has been living in Boca for 20 years. Last week I received his 2008 Sefer on Onkelos and used it for the first time this past Shabbos, July 9m 2022. It is a marvelous Sefer and I had to track him down to thank him.
My July 10, 2022 email to Rabbi Israel Drazin and his response.
Thank you very much for your compliment Mitchell. I am very happy that you liked the Onkelos book. It is my favorite among the many books that I wrote. I wish you the very best.
From: Mitchell Morgenstern [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Sunday, July 10, 2022 12:19 PM
Cc: Simcha Shabtai <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Efrem Goldberg <email@example.com>; Philip Moskowitz <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Rabbi Josh Broide <email@example.com>
Subject: Onkeyles on the Torah
As I mentioned I received your Sefer last week and used it this Shabbos. It enhanced my learning. I love your format and for me it is superior to the Artscroll that was recently published. It is an extra English translation of the Chumash based on Onkelos in a clear format.
I reread the portion I did not understand and now understand..
Next time I am in Boynton Beach where my daughter lives, I will definitely visit.
I arrived in Boca Raton Synagogue in 2012 and while not a regular attendee, I became familiar with the people. My daughter moved out of the area in 2016 so I visit less frequently.
I am diminished because I did not meet you. I became a Talmud of Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah and still miss him to this day.
Thank you again for putting out this scholarly work.
Mitchell A. Morgenstern
Rashi Verse 20:2
ולא היה מים לעדה AND THERE WAS NO WATER FOR THE CONGREGATION — Since this statement follows immediately after the mention of Miriam’s death, we may learn from it that during the entire forty years they had the “well” through Miriam’s merit (Taanit 9a).
The Rabbi Bachya and the Seifsei Chachomin add, specifically Miriam did, and not Moshe and Aaron. It was because Miriam stood by watching what would happen to her infant brother when he was in a basket in the reeds at the edge of the river (Exodus 2:4). G-d had rewarded her for that act of kindness by making her the provider of water for Moses’ people. The people had not appreciated this until the well ceased with Miriam’s death.
Rabbeinu Bachya, Bamidbar 20:2:1 – 2
Rabbeinu Bachya:ולא היה מים לעדה. כשמתה מרים נסתלק הבאר כי היה הבאר בזכות מרים שהיה לה זכות המים ממשה, שנאמר (שמות ב׳:ד׳) ותתצב אחותו מרחוק. ומה שנסתלק עתה במיתתה ראיה שבזכותה היה עמהם, ומכאן שכל ארבעים שנה היה להם הבאר.
ולא היה מים לעדה, “The congregation had no water.” As soon as Miriam died, the well which had traveled with the Israelites all these years ceased providing water. The water which the people had enjoyed all these years was due to the merit of Miriam who had stood by watching what would happen to her infant brother when he was in a basket in the reeds at the edge of the river (Exodus 2,4). G-d had rewarded her for that act of kindness by making her the provider of water for Moses’ people. The people had not appreciated this until the well ceased with Miriam’s death.
Siftei Chakhamim, Numbers 20:2:1
שפתי חכמים, במדבר כ׳:ב׳:א׳
הבאר בזכות מרים. שהרי מיד כשמתה מרים לא הי’ להם עוד מים. וא”ת למה לא היה הבאר בזכות אהרן או משה, וי”ל בזכות שהמתינה למשה על המים לראות מה יעשה לו כשהושלך בתיבה, לכן נעשה לה זכות זה של באר דהיינו מים שנתן הקב”ה מים לעדה בשבילה:
The well in Miriam’s merit. For immediately after Miriam died, they no longer had water. You might ask: Why was the well not in Aharon’s or Moshe’s merit? The answer is that it was in the merit of Miriam waiting for Moshe by the water, to see what would happen to him when he was placed there in the box [as a baby] (Shemos 2:4). In return, this merit of the well, i.e., the water that Hashem provided for the congregation was on her behalf.
Other Meforshim I saw and liked:
וירב העם וגו’ ולו גוענו. פירוש נתרעמו עליו שהתפלל עליהם שלא ימותו בדבר
ולמה הבאתם וגו’. תרעומת ב’ למה הביאום דרך מדבר שהוא מקום סכנת מיתת צמא שהיה להם להעלותם שלא על דרך המדבר, והכונה בזה כיון שאין כח ביד משה לתת להם מים במדבר על מי סמך להביאם דרך שם.
ואומרם ולמה העליתונו וגו’ פירוש ואם תשיבו אותנו כי אין דרך מובטח להעביר אתכם בו אלא דרך מדבר או הכרח היה הדבר שתעברו דרך מדבר, לזה נתרעמו ואמרו אם כן לא היה לכם להעלותינו ממצרים כיון שהוא מוכרח להביא אותנו אל המקום הרע הזה שיש בו סכנה שאינו מקום זרע וגו’ כאומרם ז”ל (חולין פח:) מדבר אינו מעלה צמחים.
In the above three comments, the Ohr HaChaim explains their complaints as legitimate, and it seems it wasn’t as if they were rebelling. Their complaints did not have the edge that their parents’ had when their parents complained. On the third, why did you bring us up from Egypt, their complaint was, you could have left us in the diaspora, in Egypt, as free men and we would have served Hashem there. Afterwards you could have brought us to Israel, in a way we would not be in danger.
Coming Home to Zion and the Lessons Learned
I purchased the book Coming Home to Zion, a Pictorial History of Pre-Israel Palestine from Half Price Books. The author is Abraham Shulman. Coming Home to Zion is the story of the birth of Israel – a stunning pictorial documentary of the formative years of the Jewsih nation. Coming Home to Zion captures the spirit as well as the heroic deed of the first israel. It also discusses the hardships of establishing a physical, agricultural and business framework for the State of israel. Many people died due to malaria and other diseases. Swamps had to be drained, inhospitable land had to be tamed and farmed. Cities had to be built. Many went back to Europe due to the uncompromising landscape and hardships. Yet the early pioneers succeeded and we have a beautiful state of Israel today, imperfect as it is.
It is easy to talk and pontificate. Hess, Herzl, and Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Klaisher were critical in advancing the idea of a state in Israel, but all they did was produce ideas and talk. And then there is the actual work. The early pioneers had to do the miserable, backbreaking work, and they did. As I said before we owe them gratitude. Maybe this was the thinking of Rabbi Avrohom Yitzxchok HaCohen Kook who understood what the pioneers had done and he tried to influence them with his holiness.
Biography of Abraham Shulman:
Abraham Shulman also Avrom Shulman (20 June 1918 — 1 November 1999) was a Polish-American journalist, author, writer of Yiddish and English short stories and essays. He began publishing poetry in Polish, later writing critical essays and mainly feature pieces in the Yiddish newspapers and periodicals of Warsaw, Paris, and New York.
LIFE AND CAREER
Shulman was born on June 20, 1918, in Warsaw, Poland. After graduating from high school in Warsaw in 1933, he studied at a journalism school there (1933-1935). His studies were interrupted by the Second World War and he and his wife managed to escape to Australia via Vladivostok, Russia, and Kobe, Japan, in 1939. He worked as a journalist in Melbourne for ten years and then moved to France, where he lived with his family for another ten years (1950-1960). His son and daughter were born in Paris during that time.
In 1961, Shulman emigrated to the United States, settling in New York, where he was employed by the Yiddish newspaper “The Forward” and wrote a satirical column.