With the transition from one generation to the next, as Aaron and Miriam pass from this world into the next, Parashat Chukat invites our contemplation. The Desert Generation, liberated from Egypt’s shackles, gradually fades, making way for a new generation to emerge.
Superficially, the Torah’s account of Miriam’s passing may seem inconspicuous, a mere mention: “Miriam died and was buried there” (Num. 20:1). Yet, a deeper exploration of the text, delving into Miriam’s profound connection with water throughout her life, unveils a profound bond. Our initial encounter with Miriam arises through her role as the elder sister of the infant boy set adrift upon the Nile’s waters by his courageous mother. Miriam’s affinity with water becomes more evident when she leads the joyous dance with timbrels at the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea. Only upon her departure do we fully grasp the magnitude of her watery connection, as the community suddenly finds itself bereft of it (Num. 20:2). Tradition suggests that a well, which accompanied Miriam wherever she journeyed, vanished with her passing. Often, we come to recognize the blessings individuals bestow upon us only in their absence, a pattern mirrored in Miriam’s narrative.
Remarkably, Miriam, a powerful presence, remains relatively enigmatic in the biblical tapestry. Astonishingly, her name appears a mere four times throughout the entire Hebrew Bible. Such scarcity of references seems incongruous with her profound influence. Miriam’s manifold contributions, exemplified by the inclusion of Miriam’s cup in the Passover Seder and her association with dance and song, illumine her pivotal role. Her intervention in saving her brother Moses’ life, thus enabling the Exodus from Egypt, further underscores her profound significance. Yet, the biblical text furnishes limited information regarding this esteemed matriarch and Prophetess.
This dynamic of acknowledging and appreciating an individual’s impact only after their demise resonates all too often. We must draw wisdom from this week’s Parsha, discerning and naming the blessings that individuals bestow upon our lives while they yet dwell among us, rather than deferring gratitude until their absence. Despite the lack of overt recognition within the textual tapestry, it would have undoubtedly been profoundly meaningful for Miriam to comprehend the extent of her significance to the community. Let us, therefore, shower ourselves and others with the sacred capacity to acknowledge the blessings that those who journey alongside us bring, expressing our gratitude for their contributions to our hearts, our community, and our world.