Sedra of the week: Chukat

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Sedra of the week: Chukat

Rabbanit Batya Friedman looks ahead to this week's portion of the Torah

“Miriam died there and . . . there was no water for the assembly, and they assembled against Moshe and Aharon”. (Numbers 20:1-2) 

Rashi explains that it was in Miriam’s merit that the Israelites had water throughout their sojourn in the desert. When she died, the water disappeared. Kli Yakar (Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz) however maintains this happened because they failed to mourn Miriam. 

 They weren’t the only ones who didn’t mourn. Rabbi Sacks defends Moshe’s outburst when he hit the rock, suggesting Moshe was in pain over the loss of his sister. As a result of his communal responsibilities, he too hadn’t taken the time to mourn her properly. He overreacted, hit the rock and was denied entry into Canaan. We can understand Moshe’s suffering, but why did the Israelites need to mourn Miriam?

 Miriam was not only their water conduit but their ray of hope. She was the one who convinced her parents to have another child. When Moshe was born, she watched over him as he drifted down the Nile. She told the Hebrew women to bring along their tambourines, anticipating the dance across the Red Sea. 

 Miriam represented hope in time of despair. With her passing, perhaps the Israelites unknowingly lost more than they could imagine, but didn’t take the time to grieve her.

 When Aharon and Moshe die, the Torah tells us that the people mourned – they realised they needed the mourning period (shiva) to
address their conflicted emotions. 

This is why we have the shiva period, to provide us with the time to reflect, so we can work through, process and resolve the emotional and spiritual issues of loss and despair during this difficult time.  

  •   Rabbanit Batya Friedman serves Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue
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