Parshat Chukat: The Well of Miriam

17 06 2010

Based on a  shiur by Mrs. Shira Smiles

Our Sages teach us that the Well of Miriam accompanied the Jews in the desert in the merit of Miriam. When she passed away, the well dried up. If we examine the nature of the well and the personality of Miriam, we can discern an intricate connection between them.

The mishna in Avot tells us that the mouth of the well was created bein hashmashot on the first erev Shabbat. The Maharal explains that the well consisted of a mundane element of Friday, and a holy element of Shabbat. Although the well functioned in the natural world it had a metaphysical dimension.

Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer writes that at the end of time, the well will once again spring up under the threshold of the Beit Hamikdash and divide into twelve different paths, one for each tribe. Its waters will irrigate all the barren fields and vineyards, which will then produce fruit. It will sweeten the waters of the Dead Sea and heal all those who immerse in it.

There is a tradition that the well is now found in the Kinneret, and water drawn from its source on Motzai Shabbat has unique healing properties.

We see that the well is not only connected to Friday night but also to Motzai Shabbat. We also see that it not only provided physical nourishment but contains supernatural healing powers.

Let us take a glimpse at the unique personality of Miriam. The Kli Yakar asks how Chazal knew that Puah was really Miriam. He answers that Puah means to coo. Miriam’s strength was in her mouth. Her job was to coo to newborn babies and calm them. When she saved the babies in Egypt, she demonstrated her belief that the exile would not last forever. She never gave up hope and continued to trust that the redemption would eventually come.

Rav Yedid notes that we see two outstanding elements of Miriam’s personality. She believed in her prophecy that her mother would give birth to the redeemer. When Moshe was placed in the Nile, she stood by to watch him. She never let go of the vision of redemption. Second, she valued the beauty and sanctity of the Jewish home. She told her father that he, as the gadol hador, must be a model of rebuilding this holy sanctum.

We see these themes repeated later in the Torah. Miriam took along drums when they left Egypt because she strongly believed that Hashem would perform miracles for them. Additionally, the washbasins in the Mishkan were fashioned from the mirrors of the Jewish women of Egypt. With iron clad emuna, inspired by their leader Miriam, the women used their mirrors to continue holy Jewish family life and raised new generations. They believed that the geula would come.

The Netziv offers a different explanation. Just as the mann fell closer or further from each person depending on his level of tzidkut, the water would flow based on a person’s level of middat hachesed. Water is chesed and women are connected to chesed. The Maharal notes that spring water rises from beneath the ground to above.  Miriam’s mission was to bring the people from a lower level to a state of elevation and desiring Hashem.

Water has an absorbable quality. When water is absorbed, it transforms latent potential into actual life. The waters of Miriam nurtured the nutrients of Torah and abstract faith to each individual, and were absorbed on his particular level. Just as the well had both a mundane and holy quality, Miriam’s job was to teach the people how to uplift the physical into something spiritual.

This is reflected in Motzai Shabbat where we take the holy experience of Shabbat and bring it into the new week. Miriam is connected to the beginning of Shabbat and the end of Shabbat. The well is also connected to the beginning of time and the end of time. Miriam understood that this world has a beginning and an end. She embodied the power to hold on and believe that salvation would ultimately come.

May our efforts to emulate Miriam’s indomitable faith and strength, help bring the final redemption speedily in our days.



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