Why Miriam Died In The Desert
They say time flies when you throw a clock out the window and that’s taka emes. And if you recall your days in yeshiva, avada you know that time also flew by when the rebbe gave a class on the heylige Gemora. Most agree that this is emes because many fell asleep and woke up refreshed a few hours later. Ober this past shabbis afternoon, while you were napping following a big lunch which followed a big kiddish which followed the kiddish club, the Toirah clock moved ahead a full 38 years. Just the other day it was year 2 in the midbar and we were discussing the Yiddin’s poor behavior. Avada you recall that’s when the miraglim (spies) left on their 30 day tour of the Promised Land. Last week we read all about Koirach, and whether or not that myseh took place in year 2 or in year 40 is up for some debate, at least according to the rabbi who gave a class on this very topic. Ober this week, all are in agreement: it’s zicher year 40. Shoin, some say that if one sticks his ear to the ground where the first recorded earthquake took place – one where the ground opened and then after swallowing those so designated, instantly closed, and where Doson and Aviram and their families were buried alive, one can still hear a few chanting the words “Moishe Emes, V’soyrosoy Emes” (Moishe’s Toirah is the real thing). And if that medrish is true -aren’t’ they all, efsher we can also ask them how long they’ve been there.
Ober what happened to the Yiddin in the -missing from the script- 38 years, and why is there no mention of them in the heylige Toirah? Could they have gone 38 years without a scandal or two, a few rebellions, and a few (hundred) illicit relationships? Not a shot! Is it possible that they behaved nicely without complaining about water, the menu, and a good piece of meat, if you chap? Also not! And judging by their behavior this week and what goes down next week in Parshas Bolok, if you chap, not much has changed except that the RBSO decided it was time for them to enter the Promised Land. Ober why don’t we taka know what took place? Because the RBSO didn’t want us to know, case closed! Who said you have to know everything?
Welcome to parshas Chukas, indeed, one of, if not the, saddest parsha, in the gantze Toirah. Last week those destined to die for whatever reason did so by being swallowed up alive, and a mageyfo (plague). This week the RBSO will introduce fiery snakes and many, though we don’t know exactly how many, will perish. And it’s that time of year, this week’s parsha, where we bid adieu to a few real Toirah heroes and heroines. We’ll get to them in a moment.
As we have discussed in recent weeks, Sefer Bamidbar, which begins on a happy note and with a count by the RBSO of His chosen people because He loved them, quickly spirals out of control and most of its parshas recount poor behavior and death. And by next shabbis and with so many dead, following yet another shrekliche incident with hot shiksa mydlich, thousands of Yiddin will be paying with their lives for combining chapping with avoido zoro, and another count will be taken. For the past eight years the heylige Oisvorfer has been telling you -over and again- that the RBSO has absolutely “zero tolerance” -to borrow a phrase from unzir (our) President- when people combine illicit relationships with idolatry.
As stated above, this week the heylige Toirah will tell us that in midbar time, it’s year 40. The long journey will be coming to an end and it’s time to finish thinning out the population. Seemingly not all those destined for death in year two were dead yet and time was running out. Back in Shelach, the RBSO decreed that all males of that generation (above a certain age), with the exception of Kolave Ben Yifuna and Yihoishua Bin Nun would not be making the trip into the Promised Land. Seemingly the women who left Mitzrayim were not included in the decree; they did not get caught up in the near riots that the miraglim caused.
Ober is that emes? Did all women taka make it over to the Promised Land? Seemingly not! Sadly, we will be saying goodbye and bidding farewell, as we do yearly, to Miriam. Very surprisingly and quite suddenly, Miriam, she the older sister of Moishe who besides giving her parents the idea to reunite and from which union Moishe was born, and also watched over baby Moishe surfside as he embarked on his first ever river cruise, will die. Why it took so many generations for Yiddin to enjoy cruising, ver veyst. Miriam, as we will learn from other sources, was a true leader of her generation, and a Prophetess in her own right. And if that weren’t sad enough, we will also say goodbye to Aharoin, Moishe’s older brother who, though involved with the eygel (golden calf) caper, still lived another 39 years or so until the RBSO suddenly and without advance notice, declared that he too will not be making the trip over to the Promised Land.
Shoin: Since we mentioned Miriam’s unexpected and sudden passing, let’s give her a proper send-off and try to answer a few glaring questions. Among them: Was she the only woman who passed away during the 40 year midbar excursion? And if so, why? Did she sin? How did she die? Was there a levaya (funeral) or a mourning period? Interestingly enough, the heylige Toirah (Bamidbar 20:12) does specifically tell us why Moishe and Aharoin passed away in the desert, though as you can imagine there are many views on what their exact sin might have been. The most common and prevailing theory is that they were punished for shtekin abuse (misuse of the staff). Shtekin abuse, especially by a rebbe in yeshiva or over in camp, should zicher preclude entry, if you chap. Ober we are not told why Miriam died. Says Rashi (Bamidbar 1:49 and 26:24) azoy: only the men who were counted in the primary census, died in the midbar. Ober, does this not indicate that none of the women died in the desert? It does! Shtlelt zich-di-shaylo (the question arises) azoy: Was Miriam not a woman? Zicher she was and if she was, why did she taka die? Moreover, why does her death go unexplained? Was she the only female casualty? And guess what? Many have asked the zelbe kashas (same questions) and many posit what they believe to be plausible explanation or answers; let’s see a few.
Says the heylige Toirah (Bamidbar 20:1) azoy “and Miriam died there and was buried there”. That’s the entire review of her passing, funeral, burial and mourning period. Fartig! For a person like Miriam who had the foresight to have her parents reunite so that Moishe could be born and for a person who, following the crossing of the Sea, led her own and mistama first all-female band in music while she charged up the women, this was not the sendoff she mistama imagined. The very next posik (20:2) will tell us azoy: “and there was no water for the people.” And what has the lack of water to do with Miriam’s burial? Soon we’ll address that.
Says the Novee (Yihoishua 5:4) azoy: “All the people that came out of Egypt, that were males, all the men of war, had died”, but not the women. Seemingly she alone died. Some say it was but a natural occurrence; she was, after all, the oldest of the three siblings (a sister to Moishe and Aharoin). Poshit giredt (simply speaking): it was just her time to go and when it’s someone’s turn to go, whether they like it or not, ready or not, they go. Moreover, she was over 120 years old. Some say she was 126, others, 127.
Some say that she died because the Yiddin weren’t deserving of having her. They didn’t appreciate her. And we know this how? We seemingly know this from their behavior and attitude towards her after she passed. Did they eulogize her? They didn’t! Did they mourn for her as they would mourn for Aharoin, Moishe and others? They did not! If they did, it’s not in the script. Her passing may also have led to their sudden thirst for water since it was in her merit that the Yiddin had water as they traversed the midbar.
And taka our wise sages tell us that the Yiddin, while in the midbar, received three gifts from the RBSO, each in the merit of their leaders. The Ananey Hakovoid (Divine clouds of Glory) that surrounded and protected them, were given in Aharoin’s merit, the Mun (manna) from Heaven in honor of Moishe and the traveling well- rock- better known as Miriam’s-Well, was gifted in her honor. Ober what has water to do with Miriam? The medrish and others will tell us that Miriam merited that gift because she stood by the waters of the Nile watching over her baby brother in the basket. And it’s this source of water that dried up with her passing. Hence we will read after her passing …..”and there was no water for the people.” And don’t you see how all these pieces fit together and are mamish so gishmak?
Others suggest that she died because her brothers were destined to die. Aharoin in this very parsha, Moishe later on in year 40. Ober how would it look if her two brothers died and she survived? Of course people would be talking and gossiping. According to this view, Miriam was equal in greatness to Moishe and Aharoin; the three of them were, says the heylige Gemora (Taanis 9A) “good providers of the Yiddin” and it wouldn’t look right (es hut nisht gipast) that she remain alive while her two brothers were denied entry into the land. Therefore she passed away first.
Ober says the Zoihar (further elucidated by the Netziv), azoy: this 40th year was a transitional period for the Yiddin and they had to stop relying on open miracles. The above mentioned rock-well that provided abundant water and followed the Yiddin throughout their encampments was no small miracle. Ober the RBSO, knowing He was about to have the Yiddin enter the land, wanted them weaned off miracles. They needed to learn how to live a more natural existence of hidden miracles. In other words: because the well water was given in her honor and because the RBSO needed to wean the Yiddin off miracles as they were set to enter, Miriam had to be sacrificed. Fartig!
Others, relying on textual evidence, as well as remarks found in the heylige Gemora and avada in the medrish, which tell us that Miriam was a leader among the women akin to Moishe and Aharoin’s roles as leaders, tell us that if Moishe and Aharoin were destined not to enter, neither could she. And why not? Because it wouldn’t be fair to Yehoishua to have a previous generation leader still around. Miriam may have been the 3rd most important person in the chain of command and her being around, might have threatened Yehoishua’s leadership[.
On the other hand………..efsher we can kler that there is linkage between Miriam’s passing and its appearance in parshas Chukas which begins with the very unusual laws of the Poro Adumah (red heifer). We have previously covered this topic and discussed how the laws of the Red Heifer are difficult to understand and fall into the category of chukim (statutes) that defy human reason. And when all is considered, we can kler that there was something about the death of the righteous Miriam that was very chok-like. It was simply the will of the RBSO. And avada we should consider this thought: Good people also need to die.
Shoin, earlier we asked how Miriam died? Says the heylige Gemora (Megilla 28a) azoy: Moishe, Aharoin and Miriam all got the kiss of G-d. Seemingly the Malach Hamoves (angel of death) could not take them or her. In total, says the Gemora (Buba Basra 17a) azoy: there were six over whom the angel of death had no dominion; Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov, Moishe, Aharoin and Miriam. Efsher you’re wondering who buried Miriam? The medrish will tell us that Moishe and Aharoin buried her. Moishe carried her head and Aharoin her feet.
As to her sendoff and farewell, let’s keep in mind that Miriam is remembered as part of the triumvirate with Moishe and Aharoin (Micah 6:4). She was the sister of our greatest prophet and of the first koihen godol (high priest). She was a striking personality in her own right and the first woman in the Novee (Scriptures) who appears not in the role of someone’s wife or mother but as an active figure in the affairs of the emerging nation. The medrish will tell us that she married Kolave, the good spy whom the RBSO selected, along with Yishoishua to enter the land. Her son Chur, was a leading nobleman from sheyvet Yehudah. Together with Aharoin, Chur was appointed to the leadership of the people, while Moishe went up to Har Sinai for forty days to receive the heylige Toirah and bring down the RBSO’s Ten Commandments. Sadly, Chur was murdered by the eygel worshippers when he spoke up and tried to prevent them from committing that grievous sin. Chur was the grandfather of Betzalel, the chief architect of the Mishkan. May her memory be a blessing.
Shoin, now that you’re all depressed, let’s also say goodbye to Aharoin because he too passes away this week. And his terrible crime? As mentioned above, it appears that Moishe did not follow the RBSO’s orders and instead of talking to a specifically designated rock, he hit the rock two times. For this action according to most (or perhaps his anger according to some) both Moishe and Aharoin were denied entry, their passports rescinded. Let’s read that again. Ober, wasn’t it Moishe who received the instructions? And wasn’t it Moishe who took the shtekin and wasn’t it Moishe who hit the rock instead of talking to it? Why was the RBSO angry with Aharoin and why was he punished for a crime he didn’t commit?
Sadly that too happens and Aharoin may have been the first but zicher not the last. Seemingly, Aharoin was efsher punished for remaining silent and letting Moishe hit the rock. Perhaps the RBSO was upset because there are times when people need to speak up and avada there are times, when silence is called for. And despite Aharoin’s deep respect for his brothers leadership and talent, efsher he too was held accountable because he could have interfered and told Moishe not to strike the rock. And is there a lesson to be learned here? Efsher we can kler that certain people, the koihen godol by way of example and many others, are held to a higher standard when it comes to looking the other way. Seemingly when it comes to listening to the RBSO, for them, it was two strikes and you’re out! They were both to die in the midbar. That’s for good guys, for tzadikkim (the righteous) like Moishe and Aharoin. There is some good news and efsher we’ll close out on a positive note: seemingly, for most of us regular Yiddin who sin daily, it appears that the RBSO is used to us and allows the game to continue. Nine innings, extra innings, the games keep getting extended and the season is long, sometimes a lifetime. He is forever hopeful of our return, of our repentance.
A gittin Shabbis-
The Heylige Oisvorfer Ruv