The Gemara in Taanit tells us that there were three miraculous gifts given to the Jewish People every single day while they were in the desert for 40 years: the “Anan” (the cloud cover), the “Mahn” (the manna) and the “Be’er” (the rolling well). [Taanit 9a]
The be’er, the Gemara says, is in the merit of Miriam, and therefore, when Miriam passes away in our parsha, the be’er stops giving water, as the verse states, “ולא היה מים לעדה”. [Numbers 20:2]
Immediately after Miriam passes away, there is no water for the Jewish People.
The Gemara continues:
“וחזרה בזכות שניהם”
Due to Moshe’s and Aharon’s pleading with God, the water from the well resurfaces and gives the Jewish People water.
Rashi explains that Miriam’s Well is actually a rock that’s filled with water that rolls with them from place to place. [Rashi on Taanit 9a (“The Well of Miriam”)]
The Tosefta in Sukkah actually explains the protocol of how this rock-well of Miriam dispensed water throughout the 40 years in the desert. [Tosefta Sukkah 3:3]
And it is that rock-well that Moshe strikes with the staff. [Numbers 20:11]
Miriam is always synonymous with deliverance, especially from water. After all, it is Miriam who watches over baby Moshe in the water. [Exodus 2:4]
It is Miriam who helps the Egyptian princess save Moshe. [Exodus 2:7-10]
And if you look at Miriam’s name, the word “mayim” (water / מרים) is found in it.
And even the name is really a conjunction of two words “mar” and “yam”,
(“מר” and ”ים“)
…the bitterness that happens in a body of water, which Miriam transforms.
When the Jews cross the Sea of Reeds, it is Miriam who leads the women in song.
“ותען להם מרים”
“And Miriam sang to them”
“ ‘שירו לה’”
“Let us, as a group of women, come together, sing and dance to celebrate this open miracle of God.”
And therefore, in this week’s Torah portion, when Miriam passes away and is buried there, all of a sudden there’s a crisis of no water:
“ולא היה מים לעדה”
“and there was no water for the community”
And they therefore complain to Moshe and Aharon. Moshe argues with the Jewish People:
“שמעו נא המרים:”
“המן הסלע הזה נוציא לכם מים”
“Do you expect me to be like my sister, who was able to get water from a stone?!”
Even the word “המורים”, which in the Sefer Torah lacks the letter “vav”, can be read as “שמעו נא המרים”, which also spells “Miriam”.
Moshe says: “Do you expect me to be like Miriam, you rebels, and give you the gift of water? That was Miriam’s greatness, not mine!”
After Moshe pleads with God – and there are mistakes that Moshe makes in this process, that we’ve discussed in the past – this well resurfaces. And then the Jewish people, after the resurfacing of this well, sing a song to God:
“אז ישיר ישראל את השירה הזאת”
This song to God is the second shira (song) in the Torah. Unlike the overt miracle that happens once in history – the Jewish people crossing through the Yam Suf – this celebrates a miracle that happens every single day for 40 years.
And there’s a deep message in there for each and every one of us: sometimes we forget the daily miracles that occur in life. The Jewish people forgot that.
They are only reminded about it when there are a few days where that miracle, that gift, is lost; in this case, clean water.
What a powerful message for each and every one of us.
We sometimes forget the gifts that God gives us:
the fact that we have a beating heart;
the fact that we are blessed with family and friends;
the fact that we have the capacity to live free lives.
These are all gifts that God gives us, and we take them for granted.
The power of prayer is to remind us not just of the miracles that happened once in history.
The power of prayer, the opportunity of prayer, the brilliance of prayer, is to give us the capacity to recognize for ourselves and to God the miracles that happen every single day, as the Jewish people recognize in this week’s Torah portion after they lose water for a short period of time.