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To Life!

By: Mrs. Aliza Schwartz

One of the most prominent and spirited leaders is no longer with us; the loss of Miriam brought with it the loss of the nation’s source of life; the well. After we learn that Miriam died, we hear the people complaining that there is no water. Rashi (quoting the gemara taanit 9a) informs us of the connection between the two events: for all 40 years, the nation benefitted from the well in Miriam’s merit. But what was that merit? What is the connection between Miriam and the water that kept the nation alive in the desert?

Let’s go back to when we first met Miriam, in sefer Shemot. Miriam is not named in the early stories of Shemot, she is merely called “the sister”. The midrash (shemot rabba) builds an entire story revolving around this “sister”, this girl- around Miriam. Upon hearing Pharaoh decree that every baby boy should be thrown into the Nile, Amram (Miriam’s father and prominent member of society) divorced his wife Yocheved, to prevent the future death of any sons born. Because Amram was distinguished in society, all the other men followed his lead and divorced their wives as well. Miriam, as a very young girl, saw this and reprimanded her father saying: “Your decree is worse than Pharaoh’s! His decree is only on the boys, but your decree is on both boys and girls”.  After hearing this, Amram immediately took Yocheved back as his wife, and eventually gave birth to Moshe, the nation’s savior.

The next piece the midrash presents about Miriam’s life is Miriam as midwife. Pharaoh commanded the midwives to kill all Jewish baby boys as they were being born. Two God fearing women- Shifra and Puah- defied the king and kept all the babies alive. The midrash tells us that Puah is Miriam, who cooed the babies and restored the babies to life.

Miriam’s intervention and clear drive towards preserving life, is the key to understanding her connection to the well. The greatest life giving force is water; a week without it, and one would perish. From a very young age, Miriam was focused on life: saving it, protecting it, giving it. It was in this merit that the entire nation of Israel was sustained with the well all forty years in the desert. Miriam is the ultimate life-giver.

We too, can be like Miriam, life-givers. It will most probably come in a different form than Miriam’s example, but no less powerful. Smile at a security guard, or a cashier, and watch their face light up with life. We may not possess a physical well of water, but we know Torah is compared to water. Use your well of Torah knowledge and learning to bring life to your family, friends, community, and most importantly, yourself.

Shabbat Shalom




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