(19:2) “Zos Chukas H’Torah-These are the statutes of the Torah.” This week’s Parsha deals with death. The ashes of the Para Adumah that purify someone who came into contact with death, the death of Miriam and Aharon and the decree of Moshe’s death are all major themes here. With this parsha the sefer Bamidbar seems to change direction. Until now we have been dealing with the generation that emerged from Egypt. But from here on, the remainder of the Chumash recounts the history of the next generation. All of the events described from here on take place in the 40th year of the midbar wanderings. The point of this transition is the mitzvah of the Para Haduma. It is called a “Chok” because the meaning behind it has eluded even the greatest of minds. Rashi says that no reason is given for these “Chukim”. Yet he does say that if the nations of the world would mock the Torah saying, look at these mitzvos that make no sense, we precede this by saying that although they are a Chok beyond our comprehension, Klal Yisroel were still willing to comply.This could be the connection to last week’s parsha. In parshas Korach we learned that Korach challenged Moshe by using his own logic. He would tear down anything he could not understand. If a room is full of Torah scrolls how can it need a mezuzah? This is why our parsha begins with “Chukim” these are laws beyond human comprehension.
(19:2) “Zos Chukas H’Torah-Vayikchu Aylecha Para Adumah-These are the statutes of the Torah-Take for yourselves a red cow.” Why is this particular “Chok” used here? Why Para Adumah? The answer is that when a person comes into contact with death, it can have very traumatic effects on him. A person begins to feel his own mortality. We find in the very next parsha that (20:1)“Vayavou Benei-Yisroel Kol-Ho’aidah-And all of Benei Yisroel came the whole congregation.” What does the words “Kol-H’Aidah mean? It would seem to be extra. What it means is that all those who were destined to die in the Midbar had passed away. This was the end of the forty years of wandering. Now after seeing the passing of an entire generation Hashem wanted to show them there can still be life. The Parah Haduma was red like blood, which is the life force. It had to be a matured animal yet never worked. It represented the most pure form of physicality. It had to be burned outside of the Beis Hamikdosh, the place of the utmost spirituality. And when it was finally broken down to its lowest level, that of ashes, it became mixed with mayim chaim, life-giving waters.This was meant to teach Klal Yisroel that there can be life even after death.
Hashem placed the well of Miriam (the rock) into the yam Kineret. The Midrash says it is in the midst of the sea there is a rock riddled with holes similar to a sieve that used to be the well of Miriam. The old Beis Hamedrash near Teverye was built so that its main entrance would face the direction of the well of Miriam and that a person entering the Bais Hamedrash would remember how Hashem provided the Jews with water in the Midbar and fortify himself with trust in Hashem.
The Midrash says that the Malach Hamoves had no power over six tzadikim who passed away by a divine kiss; Avraham, Yitzchok, Yakov, Moshe, Aaron, and Miriam. The question is why did Miriam have to die in the Midbar? The reason for Moshe and Aharon’s death is given. But Miriam’s death occurred before the incident of hitting the rock. Up until this point none of the women died in the Midbar. They were not included in the sin of the Eigel or the Meraglim. In addition what lesson do we learn from the fact that the well dried up immediately after her death? Plus sadly, we do not find that Klal Yisroel mourned for her.
The Gemarrah in Taanis (9a) says that the “Dor Deyeh” received three gifts in the merits of its three great leaders: Miriam - the well, Aharon - the Ananei Hakovod, Moshe - the Munn. Why are these three leaders associated with these particular gifts?
They personified the three pillars, which uphold the world Torah, Avodah and Gemilus Chasadim. Moshe was the giver of the Torah, its teacher. Therefore in his merit they received the munn whose daily gift alleviated the necessity of earning a living and whose ingestion aided them in Torah study. Aaron personified Avodah his devotion to the korbonos brought the Shechina to Klal Yisroel. The Ananei Hakoved was provided in his zechus for it represented the Shechina which dwelt with the Jewish people. Miriam excelled in Gemilus Chasadim. Even as a small girl she assisted her mother as a midwife and she gave food to the poor. Because of her chesed Hashem provided the Jews with water, the most vital necessity. But even more than necessity, water represents the spirituality Hashem is constantly giving. The Gemarrah says all three were taken away. Why? We can understand this according to the Gemarrah in Sotah (10a), which lists five gifts that were given to great people but taken away due to a lack of appreciation for them. Perhaps this is the lesson we must learn here.
Klal Yisroel did not even know that the gifts were in the merit of their great leaders until after they were taken away. We find right after the incident of Mey Meriva that Moshe sent word to Edom requesting permission to cross their land. He pleaded that as brothers they know all the travail that had befallen Klal Yisroel. He said we will travel on the “Kings Highway - Derech Hamelech.” But the king of Edom sent back word not to pass through. The very next posuk we find Benei Yisroel saying “We will go up by the highway Bimisilah but please let us pass through On Foot” (20:19). What was it that they were adding? Moshe had already said we would travel on the Kings Highway? What is the meaning of going in their feet? The Sefas Emes writes that the Edomites feared the Clouds of Glory, the Ananei Hakovod. These clouds would transform their terrain. It would flatten mountains and level valleys as it passed. Their land would be unrecognizable to them after Israel passed through! But Klal Yisroel was willing to forgo their formation, which was 12 mil by 12 mil and traverse a narrow pathway through the mountains without their cloud protection. There were seven clouds. One went ahead of the camp and the other six surrounded them on all sides, including beneath them. When they said "On our feet" they meant on the ground, not walking on a cloud as they had until now.They took for granted the gift of the Ananei Hakovod. The very next verse describes the death of Aharon and the subsequent removal of the Ananei Hakovod. The Gematria of Derech Hamelech equals 319. The Gematria of B’misila equals 137. The difference between what Moshe said and what Klal Yisroel said is 182, which equals B'Ananni with the clouds. They didn’t appreciate their gift so it was taken away. Later on in the parsha,Klal Yisroel once again complains, this time about the Munn. (21:5) “V'nafsheinu Kotzoh B'lechem Haklokel-And our soul loathes this light bread.” The result of this was the decree of Moshe’s death and the removal of the final gift. The Munn.
This leaves us with Miriam and the gift of the well. But why is Miriam’s gift unique? Why was her special merit removed first and without any explanation?
We know that when Hashem created the world it was originally covered with water. Scientists in their search for life beyond our planet begin with the search for water without which there can be no life. Chazal tell us that Aine Mayim Eleh Torah-There is no water except for Torah. The physical world cannot exist without Torah/Water.But we know the world exists because of chessed. As it says Olam Chessed Yiboneh-The world is built on Chessed. This was Miriam’s gift. Everything we have in this world is a chesed of Hashem. The first command given to the physical world was to produce fruit. Miriam and the well represented this life giving force in the Midbar. The Midbar was a desolate place. Eretz Lo Zaruah -a place where nothing grew. It was the place that contained the most concentration of negativity. And yet the Midrash says that there was such an abundance of water that wherever the well went new vegetation began to sprout. That is why according to the Ohr Hachaim it was necessary for Klal Yisroel to wander through the Midbar. This is what the well of Miriam represented, new life, fruit. This is why the gematria of Miriam is Peri-fruit. Her’s was the most basic chessed it was the gift of life. This gift went unappreciated and therefore it was taken away. (20:1-2) “Vatomos Shom Miriam Vatikover Shom-V’lo Hayah Mayim-Miriam died there and was buried there- And there was no water.” There was no water meaning there were no tears for her. (Oznayim L’torah)
They stood poised at the brink of entering the land promised to their forefathers. They were about to transcend into a new level of existence, one that would no longer rely on the open miracles of the Midbar. Now was when the lesson of appreciation needed to be taught. But the lesson was lost. No one mourned. All three gifts were to be removed from the nation. All three leaders had to end their leadership and in the end Klal Yisroel would know what it had lost. The lesson we must learn is to appreciate all of the gifts we are given. Everything in life, large or small is a gift from Hashem, which must be appreciated.
(20:1) “Vatomos Shom Miriam Vatikover Shom-Miriam died there and was buried there” Why was Miriam not permitted to be buried in the land? All of the women of that generation survived the Midbar? We know that the remnants of the original son’s of Yakov were brought to Eretz Yisroel to be buried in their own portion. The portion where Miriam was buried was on the other side of the Jordan. The place where the future cities of refuge would be established. Since Miriam was a Levi this was her portion!
Rashiwrites that the reason the death of Miriam follows the laws of Parah Adumah is to teach us that just as a sacrifice atones, so too the death of the righteous atone. The question is why bring this lesson here by Miriam? The laws of the Red Cow were given when they first left Egypt, while now 38 years later, the death of Miriam is recorded. The answer is that Miriam exemplified not only atonement but purification as well. Miriam was involved in uniting husband and wife. First with her father, when she was merely six years old, by advising her him to remarry her mother which directly resulted in the birth of Moshe. Again when she learned that Moshe separated from his wife. Her whole intent in speaking against Moshe was for the sake of her sister-in-law. Even the well which came in her merit was more than just to satisfy the drinking needs of the nation. It served to unite husband and wife by being a Mikveh.
All three gifts were restored in the merit of Moshe. If so, why did we need to connect them with Aaron and Miriam? Why couldn’t Moshe have brought these miracles to Klal Yisroel himself? The answer is that Aaron and Miriam were needed to bring these miracles down to this world. Once that was done through each one of their special Midos, then Moshe was able to bring them back. But they were needed to bring them into the world in the first place.
Immediately following Miriam’s death we learn that the Be’ar (the well) dried up and became hidden from Klal Yisroel. The Midrash relates that while Moshe and Aharon were in mourning, groups of Benei Yisroel approached them complaining that while they mourn their sister they would soon be mourning a nation due their lack of water. This brought on the incident of Mey Meriva which was the cause of Moshe’s subsequent sin and decree of death before entering Eretz Yisroel.
How would speaking to the rock be more of a lesson than hitting the rock? R.Zaidel Epstein offers a unique perspective. Speaking to the rock and thus causing water to emerge would be considered a Razton, a willing act. Hitting the rock would be considered Hechrech, compulsion or force. Both acts teach the importance of listening to Hashem, but if we only learn to listen to Hashem when we are under duress it is not as compelling as if listening to Hashem willingly.
We have to examine this well of Miriam. It was one of the ten things created Erev Shabbos before sunset. There was some sort of lesson that had to be learned from speaking to the rock as opposed to hitting the rock as was done on previous occasions. What was this great transgression that Moshe did? How is his punishment Midah Keneged Midah? The Sefas Emes writes that as the Ten Mamorous were uttered at the beginning of creation; the ten things created Erev Shabbos was the completion of the creation. The physical world was brought into being at the start but there had to be a spiritual connection to the source. Shabbos was the goal of creation. Therefore at the onset of the first Shabbos of creation the connections to the spiritual world had to be set in order to ultimately bring the world back to its source, to its purpose. This is perhaps the understanding of the Be’ar. The concept of a stone, one of the most physical of things bringing forth water, one of the most spiritual things, is perhaps one of the most important ideas we need to understand. This can capsulate our existence. We are physical beings endowed with a Neshama that we must use to elevate our existence. We are placed here to take the physical world and elevate it to the highest levels attainable to draw the spiritual out of the physical. This defines man and differentiates him from the animal world. Klal Yisroel in their infancy was originally shown this in the form of striking the rock. They had recently been delivered from servitude and were on the lowest of spiritual levels. In this week’s parshaKlal Yisroel were at the brink of fulfilling their goal of entering Eretz Yisroel of transcending into a new level of existence. They had completed forty years of Torah study and Hashem wanted to teach them that it is the power of their Torah that transforms their physical world. Moshe was to teach them a lesson in Torah and then speak to the rock thereby demonstrating this new level of Kiddusha their Torah had elevated them to.
What went wrong? It’s not clear exactly what was said when Moshe and Aharon were approached. But there was a confrontation. That is why the incident is called the waters of strife. According to some the Erev Rav wanted Moshe to perform a miracle on any rock, not necessarily the rock. To which he replied (20:10) “Hamin Haselah Hazeh Notze Lochem Mayim-From this rock you wish to extract water?” The Sefas Emes makes an analogy of the words “Hamin Haselah” and the words “Hamin Ha’etz” (Bereishis 3:11) which refers to the original sin of Adom. Both have the same gematria (260). Moshe wanted the lesson to come from the Eitz Ha’chaim, which is the Torah, rather than from the Eitz Ha’das Tov V’rah. Moshe was the connection of this source of spirituality. Through him all of the Torah was transmitted. His essence was in his name (Shemos 2:10) “Ki Min Hamayim M’shesihu-Because from the water he was drawn” This failure was at the core of who Moshe was. The mission to transcend the nation into the next stage and bring them into Eretz Yisroel could not now be realized. This perhaps is the Midah Keneged Midah. Hashem tells Moshe and Aharon (Bamidbar 20:12) “Yaan Lo-H’emantem Be L’Hakdishainy L’aynei Bnei Yisroel Lochain Lo Soviu es-Hakohol Hazeh el-Ha’aretz Asher -Nosati Lohem” Because you did not believe in me, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.” Through the Be’ar, the mouth of which was one of the ten things created at the beginning of time, which was the transcendence from the physical back to the spiritual, Moshe was punished. At this juncture, Klal Yisroel stood at the threshold of a new existence. Until now they had experienced a totally spiritual form of life. Through this they were able to grow and prepare for this next step. That of putting into action the Torah they had been learning and using it to elevate the physical world that was the land they were about to enter. At this moment they had to learn the lesson of the Be’ar. Moshe Rabeinu was not permitted to enter the land. On Moshe Rabeinu’s level this was a just punishment. Perhaps it was more the shortcomings of this new generation of Klal Yisroel. But as their spiritual leader the responsibility rested with him.
It is said that in the future Moshe will ultimately lead the generation that died in the midbar to the Promised Land. This could be the reason why Moshe, Aharon and Miriam were all put to rest in the midbar rather than being brought into Eretz Yisroel as were the twelve Shevotim. All three of them were of a different generation and perhaps that is their destiny. (Bamidbar 20:24) “Yai’osef Aharon el-Amov-To be gathered unto the nation”. In the future they will be gathered unto the nation together with all of the returning exiles.
The Oznayim L'Torah writes that Moshe was to teach them a Mishnah of Torah. The lesson for them was that through learning Torah water would be provided. Hashem wanted there to be a new type of miracle and not a continuation of the previous situation. Speech as a means to affect the physical world rather than action, hitt nag herock. By not doing this a tremendous opportunity was lost to make a Kiddush Hashem. It became a Chilul Hashem instead.
(20:8) “Kach es Hamateh V'hakael es Ho'Aidah-V’debartem el-Haselah-Take the Staff and gather the congregation..and speak to the rock.” What purpose was the staff to serve and what was Moshe to say to the rock? Aharon and Moshe each had his own staff. When Hashem wanted Moshe or Aharon to take his own staff, He would say "matecha - your staff" (see Shemot 7:9). Since in this pasuk it says "hamateh - the staff," obviously it was a special one with unique qualities. Here the word Aidahis used with reference to Benei Yisroel. But it n verse 10 We find Moshe gathers "Hakahal" The difference between the two is that the word "Aidah" implies a disorganized group. From this Moshe knew that they would not be receptive to the spiritual message he was charged to impart upon them. (Oznayim L'Torah)
In Parashat Korach, Moshe told the leaders of each tribe to bring a staff to be put in the Tabernacle. On each would be written the name of the tribal leader, with Aharon's name written on the staff of the tribe of Levi. The staff belonging to the one who was Divinely chosen would blossom. The staff of Aharon blossomed and produced almonds and eventually was put next to the Aron for posterity. It was this staff that Moshe was to take. This corresponds to the verse, "Moshe took the staff from before G-d" (20:9). The purpose of taking the staff was to show it to the rock as if to say, "Learn this lesson; just as this dry piece of wood suddenly became moist and alive in order to sanctify Hashem's name, so should you sanctify Hashem's name by giving water, even though it is not your nature." (Vedibarta Bam)