Water Proof

Water for perceptible reasons, is a central theme in our foundational stories. From opportune encounters, in Bereishit, the “well” being of our matriarchs and patriarchs is notably linked to water, or sometimes lack of it. In the book of Shemot it is also a central motif. Moses having been placed in the Nile under the watchful eye of his sister Miriam,  מרים notice the Mayim in her name, is providentially saved by the daughter of Pharaoh and consequently, receives his name;

וַיִגְדַּ֣ל הַיֶּ֗לֶד וַתְּבִאֵ֙הוּ֙ לְבַת־פַּרְעֹ֔ה וַֽיְהִי־לָ֖הּ לְבֵ֑ן וַתִּקְרָ֤א שְׁמוֹ֙ מֹשֶׁ֔ה וַתֹּ֕אמֶר כִּ֥י מִן־הַמַּ֖יִם מְשִׁיתִֽהוּ׃

When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, who made him her son. She named him Moses, explaining, “I drew him out of the water.”

This almost embryonic relationship between Moses and Miriam and the role of water is acutely pronounced in this week’s portion of Chukat. There is a telling juxtaposition between her death and the lack of water. Rashi quotes from Talmud Ta’anit 9a to expand;

ולא היה מים לעדה. מִכָּאן שֶׁכָּל אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה הָיָה לָהֶם הַבְּאֵר בִּזְכוּת מִרְיָם 

AND THERE WAS NO WATER FOR THE CONGREGATION — Since this statement follows immediately after the mention of Miriam’s death, we may learn from it that during the entire forty years they had the “well” through Miriam’s merit.

This is an incredibly romantic image and yet, why when taking the Jews out of Egypt on an arduous journey through the desert, did they need to merit this basic and crucial commodity? Water, hats and sunscreen ought not to be required to be earned, one should never leave or organize a trip without them!

As the story continues, we see that the impact of the lack of water was ominously on Moses. The onus was on him to solve it, Miriam was no longer able to watch his back. Throughout Moses’s life she was there watching, protecting and saving. Her death, whilst affecting the people, ultimately became the cause of Moses’s lamentable downfall. The continuous supply and access to water whilst it clearly nourished the people, perhaps all the more, it nurtured Moses. The most rudimentary responsibility was ticked off the to do list.

There is an additional tragic link, or inter-dependence. All of these events occur in a place called Kadesh.- That is where Miriam died and was buried. That very conception becomes the allegation stated by God, when Moses strikes as opposed to speaks to the rock to procure water, 20:12;

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יְהוָה֮ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֣ה וְאֶֽל־אַהֲרֹן֒ יַ֚עַן לֹא־הֶאֱמַנְתֶּ֣ם בִּ֔י לְהַ֨קְדִּישֵׁ֔נִי לְעֵינֵ֖י בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל לָכֵ֗ן לֹ֤א תָבִ֙יאוּ֙ אֶת־הַקָּהָ֣ל הַזֶּ֔ה אֶל־הָאָ֖רֶץ אֲשֶׁר־נָתַ֥תִּי לָהֶֽם׃

God said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust Me enough to sanctify Me in the sight of the Israelite people, therefore you shall not lead this congregation into the land that I have given them.”

There is a “watertight” connection between these siblings, one that demonstrates love, responsibility, protection and constantly being there for one another. Another timely reminder of the responsibility we have for each other, dodging them is unethical and the antithesis of these teachings and teachers.

Unlike the book of Bereishit, these are not tales of sibling rivalry, albeit, they may have had their moments, rather of deep affection. It was Miriam who held the people together through the supply of water, that was a merit both for her and for the people, but perhaps most crucially for Moses, in their shared work of leadership. When that Zechut, that merit, came to an end, tragically so did Moses’s role.

Shabbat shalom

About the Author
Shalom Orzach is a senior educator and consultant for the iCenter and serves on faculty for the Foundation for Jewish Camp. He was a scholar on the prestigious Jerusalem Fellows Program, following which he was the Executive Director for Jewish Renewal at the UJIA in England. Shalom is an acclaimed public speaker on contemporary Israel who brings extensive knowledge, humor and passion.
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