In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried. — Numbers 20:1
The Torah portion for this week is Chukat, which means “requirement,” from Numbers 19:1–22:1, and the Haftorah is from Judges 11:1–33.
Recently, a close friend of mine lost her mother. As she was mourning her mother, my friend remarked that it wasn’t just the physical presence of the woman who raised her that she would miss. Through tears, she said, “Who will be my rock now? Who will tell me that everything will be OK?” Some people in our lives inspire so much faith in us that we don’t know how to go on without them. They fill us with life-giving hope that gives us the courage to continue confidently on our life’s journey.
For the children of Israel, Miriam, the sister of Moses, was that person, and in this week’s Torah reading, Miriam had passed away. Immediately after her death, we read that the water source for the nation had dried up. As long as Miriam lived, a well of water had accompanied the people as they traveled in the desert, supplying all their water needs. It existed solely because of Miriam’s merit, and once she was gone, the miraculous life-giving water was no more.
The Jewish sages point out that Miriam’s story began with water and ended with water. We first met Miriam as the sister who waited by the Nile as her baby brother Moses floated in a basket. Why did Miriam stick around? The sages teach that she wanted to see how Moses would be saved. Not if he would be saved, but how, because she had all the faith in the world that he would be saved.
Then she boldly told Pharaoh’s daughter that Moses was a Hebrew and needed to nurse from an Israelite woman. Why wasn’t Miriam afraid that Pharaoh’s daughter might throw Moses into the river as her father had decreed? Again, Miriam had faith in God’s promise that Moses would live and save Israel.
Miriam continued to be a fountain of faith for the nation of Israel throughout their slavery. It was she who inspired the women to prepare drums and tambourines for the day of salvation. She encouraged them never to give up hoping for that day, and when redemption came, Miriam led the women in song.
Miriam inspired so much faith among the people that the physical manifestation of that spiritual gift was the well of water that existed as long as she lived.
Friends, we all have the ability to be a fountain of faith for our family, friends, and community. We can speak words of faith and encouragement. We can lead by example by living out our faith and trust in God. We can inspire those around us and provide them with life-giving hope. Just as water nourishes the body, so, too, faith nurtures the soul.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President