Parshas Chukas – Thirst Quenchers - The Jewish Voice
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Parshas Chukas – Thirst Quenchers

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By: Chaya Sora Jungreis-Gertzulin

From the time of the Exodus, Bnei Yisroel were blessed to be guided by three leaders, Moshe, Aaron and Miriam. According to the Midrash, just as Moshe led the men out of Egypt, so did Miriam lead the women. Just as Moshe taught Torah to the men, so did Miriam teach Torah to the women.

This week’s parshah, Chukas, tells us about the end of an era. We learn of the passing of both Miriam and Aaron – the nation’s Kohein Gadol – and of Moshe’s days of leadership approaching their end.

“And Bnei Yisroel arrived to Midbar Tzin… and Miriam died there (Bamidbar 20:1). The next posuk tells us about the nation’s lack of water. “There was no water for the nation, and they gathered against Moshe and Aaron.” (Bamidbar 20:2)

What is the connection between Miriam’s death and the lack of water?

Rashi quotes from the Gemorah that the miraculous Be’er Miriam, Miriam’s Well of Water travelled with the nation throughout their forty years in the desert. Every man, woman and child, even their sheep and cattle, were blessed with an abundance of water during this period.

In Parshas Shemos, we are introduced to a young Miriam during a most challenging and difficult time for Bnei Yisroel. As we know, Yocheved, Moshe’s mother, had placed her newborn precious, beloved baby in a basket, afloat in the waters of the Nile, to save him from Pharaoh’s cruel edict. It was Miriam, Moshe’s older sister, who watched over him from behind bulrushes, waiting to see what will happen to her baby brother.

When Bisya, Pharaoh’s daughter, came along with her royal entourage to bathe in the river, she noticed the basket, and reached out for it. She exclaimed, “This is a Jewish infant.” (Shemos 2:6) Upon hearing Moshe’s cries, Miriam runs towards Bisya, telling her that she knows of a perfect baby nurse… it was her mother, Yocheved.

I was always amazed by Miriam’s courage. Though a young girl, she approached and actually spoke to Bisya, daughter of the enemy leader – the man who wanted to see every baby boy thrown into the river. Yet, without any fear or trepidation, she spoke up for her brother, sensing that she had a Divine mission to save him.

One would think that Miriam would have received some instantaneous reward for her heroic act of saving her brother from possible death, and arranging for him to be cared for. Yet, nowhere does the Torah provide any information about Miriam being immediately rewarded. It was only many years later that we find Miriam’s reward. It was through her merit, water was constantly available to the Jewish nation in the desert. Following her death, the be’er, the well ceased to exist.

Reward is not something that is always given automatically, or immediately evident.

A story is told about a young mother of many children in Yerushalayim. Her husband was stricken with a serious illness. Day and night, she davened for him. After enduring much pain and suffering, he passed away. The woman took her Tehillim to her rov, showing him all the well-worn, tear-stained pages.

“Where did all my tefillos go?” she cried out. The rov assured her that no prayer is in vain, that no tefillah goes unanswered. He told her, “Imagine a flask in the heavens above, in which every tear is stored, every heartfelt prayer to HaShem is saved, and every chapter of Tehillim that was recited is recorded.  Who knows when the merits accumulated in the flask will come back to earth, and be there for you. It may not be today, tomorrow or even this year. It may not even be in your lifetime. But every tefillah will be there at some point for you. For your children, or for a future generation.”

No one can predict when the reward for prayer or a good deed will be there for us. It might be for someone in need of good health, or parnassah; for shidduchim or nachas. Or, as we saw from the fascinating story of Miriam, to provide water in the desert for the entire Jewish nation.

The very name Miriam alludes to a connection with water. The word Miriam can be understood as a contraction of two words – mar and yam, meaning bitter water. She grew up at a time when Pharaoh used yam, water to bring on mar, a bitter decree for the Jewish nation. Yet, Miriam did not allow those difficult times to detract from, or diminish her bitachon, her faith and trust in HaShem. Rashi tells us that her emunah was so strong, that when only being six-years old, she convinced her parents not to separate due to Pharaoh’s decree, but to continue having children. She truly believed that HaShem’s decrees would surely triumph over the evil decrees of the mortal king, Pharaoh. By remaining together, Amrom and Yocheved merited giving birth to Moshe, the future leader of Am Yisroel.

Miriam’s faith stayed with her during all the years of suffering in Egypt. She fully believed that the redemption will arrive, and that the people will have reason to sing songs of praise to HaShem. She, along with all of the women whom she inspired, prepared tambourines, anticipating the redemption.  The letters in Miriam’s name can be rearranged, and its meaning transformed from mar yam, bitter water, to ram yam, to elevate the sea, to cross the Yam Suf, the Sea of Reeds with shirah to HaShem.

Torah is referred to as Mayim Chaim, Living Waters. Just as water refreshes and quenches our physical thirst, so too does Torah rejuvenate and satisfy our spiritual thirst. Just as water cleanses and purifies, so too do the teachings of the Torah sanctify the neshamah.

Miriam merited to not only provide water to drink, but also to provide spiritual strength and fortitude, true mayim chayim.

The Alshech tells us that perhaps the reason for the Jewish nation losing its source of water upon the death of Miriam is because they didn’t adequately mourn her upon her passing. They failed to appreciate the mayim chayim, the waters of life that were provided to them in Miriam’s merit during her lifetime.

What a lesson to learn. To appreciate the good that people do for us during their lifetime, so that we can maintain that goodness even when they are no longer with us.

Shabbat Shalom!

Chaya Sora

Chaya Sora can be reached at sgertzulin@gmail.com

This article was written L’zecher Nishmas / In Memory Of HaRav Meshulem ben HaRav Osher Anshil HaLevi, zt”l and Rebbetzin Esther bas HaRav Avraham HaLevi, zt”l

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