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The Systems of the Jewish Year

Like a Rolling Stone - Lessons From Miriam’s Well

By Rabbi Sender Haber

When Miriam was very young, she predicted that her brother Moshe would grow up to be a great person. Even after he was thrown into the Nile, Miriam stayed behind hidden in the reeds to see what would happen to him and see if there was anything she could do to help. As a reward for staying behind at the water, Miriam was given the “Well of Miriam”.

Rashi explains that that the Well of Miriam was actually a stone. It rolled with the Jewish people in their travels and miraculously gave water. During the all of the time that the Jewish people were travelling in the desert they were able to stay hydrated only because of this well of Miriam. When Miriam passed away, the well stopped giving water. When the Jewish people came to Moshe and complained about the lack of water, Moshe turned to Hashem who gave him very precise instructions. Moshe was to bring a stick, talk to the stone, Nd command it to give forth water. Moshe gathered the people and got the stone to start supplying water again, but instead of talking to the stone he hit it.

Moshe was criticized harshly for hitting the stone. It was one of the reasons why he was not allowed to enter the land of Israel. Many reasons are given for this criticism, but I would like to add my own two cents:

Miriam’s well was a reward for her kindness to her brother Moshe. It is very significant that the reward for her kindness was the opportunity to do more kindness. She could have been blessed with long years, health, a new car, or respect. Instead she was rewarded with a well that would keep the Jewish people hydrated in the desert.

Miriam understood that the greatest reward for kindness is kindness itself. When we fulfill the will of Hashem we are doing what we were created and designed to do. There is no better feeling than that.

We find a similar idea when Miriam (together with her mother Yocheved) defied Pharaoh’s orders to abort all of the Jewish children. Their reward for saving the Jewish children was that the Jewish children continued to multiply. The act itself was enough reward. They didn’t need anything else.

When Miriam passed away it was important that this lesson be preserved. Hashem told Moshe to speak to the stone and have it burst forth with water. There is no ‘stone heaven’ and the stone had nothing to gain by giving the water. By listening to the word of Hashem the stone would be giving forth water only because that was the will of its creator. This was to be an important lesson to the Jewish people. They were not to look for reward and punishment, but to act because their creator required it.

When Moshe hit the stone, he lost an important part of that message. Now, the stone gave water because it had been hit. It was reacting to reward and punishment, but not to its ultimate role in this world. The Jewish people still learned an important lesson, but not the lesson of serving Hashem for it’s own sake with no regard for immediate gratification or consequence. (Sources: Taanis 9a and Rabbeinu Bechayei as cited in “Teachings” by Rabbi A. Brander)

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