Parashat Hukkat

Miriam--Water Under The Bridge?

Miriam's death should motivate us to recognize people today who provide nurture and support that often goes unnoticed.

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The following article is reprinted with permission from American Jewish University.

Careers of public figures take on a life of their own, ebbing and flowing with shifts in public opinion and the latest values. One Jewish figure whose popularity is at an all-time high is the prophet Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron.

While featured prominently in the Torah, Miriam's claim to fame always paled in the face of her more visible brothers. After all, Aaron was the first Kohen Gadol (high priest), the link between the Jewish people and their religion, and Moses was the intimate friend of God, transmitting sacred teachings to the people.

Compared to those two leaders, Miriam simply faded into the background. True, we celebrate her beautiful song at the shores of the Red Sea, but even that poem is overshadowed by Moses' far-lengthier song. Today, Miriam's fame rests less on any specific accomplishment and more on the fact that she was a woman.

Three thousand years ago--and in most parts of the world even today--being a woman was itself disqualification from public recognition or accomplishment. With so few female heroes, Miriam stands out precisely because we are now more sensitive to just how difficult it is for a woman to gain public recognition. Today's parasha comments on the death of this prophet, that "Miriam died there and was buried there, and the community was without water."

Rashi (11th Century, France) noticed the strange juxtaposition of Miriam's death and the shortage of water, and assumed that there must be a connection between the two. "From this we learn that all forty years, they had a well because of the merit of Miriam." Miriam's Well entered the realm of Midrash as testimony to the greatness of this unique leader.

miriam bibleAs the Jews wandered through the wilderness, lacking adequate water would have been fatal. However, the power of Miriam's integrity, piety and caring was such that God provided a moving well of water, one which followed the people throughout their wanderings until the moment of her death. Without Miriam, there was no more water.

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Rabbi Bradley Artson

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson is Vice-President of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles and Dean of its Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies. He served as a congregational rabbi in Southern California for ten years. Rabbi Artson?is the author of The Bedside Torah and co-author of a children's book, I Have Some Questions about God.