“Miriam died and was buried. Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron.” (Numbers 20:1-2)
In Numbers 20:1, we read that Miriam dies. Immediately afterwards, we are told the Israelites were now without water.
Rashi comments that the Israelites had a well through Miriam’s merit and therefore her death caused the Israelites to no longer have water.
The Israelites now needed to find water by different means, and so follows one of the Torah’s most well-known stories, Moses trying to get water from the rock.
Here, in the same parsha, Moses hits the rock rather than talking to it as God had instructed, and so is punished by being told that he will not be able to enter Israel.
Shortly after the incident with the rock, Aaron also dies.
All in one parsha, we see the death of Miriam, the death of Aaron and Moses being excluded from entering Israel. In this way, the Israelite people are left without the leaders who have carried them through from slavery to freedom to their development as a people and a nation.
Just two parashot beforehand, we read that no one over the age of 20 will be able to enter Israel and that the Israelites must wander the desert for 40 years so that a new generation, which has not known slavery, will be the one to enter.
Now the people must also learn to trust new leaders and gain their own independence.
This sequence of events, which began with Miriam’s death, teaches us that sometimes we need radical change to be pushed away from what we have always known and relied on in order to find independence and be truly free.
- Rabbi Anna Posner is the Progressive Judaism student chaplain
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