One of the foremost righteous leaders of the Jews in Egyptian exile was the prophetess Miriam, sister of Moses, in whose merit the Jewish nation drank from a miraculous well which followed them throughout the Sinai desert and beyond.
Miriam was one of the three children of Amram and Jochebed; Aaron and Moses were her brothers. She was born at the time that the Egyptians began to oppress the Children of Israel and embitter their lives; she was thus named "Miriam", meaning "embittered" [in Hebrew, "mar" means "bitter"]. (Seder Olam Rabbah 3)
Several years after she was born, Pharaoh's astrologers told him that the savior of Israel will meet his end by water. Pharaoh then decreed that all male Jewish babies be thrown into the Nile, and he entrusted the Jewish midwives, Shifra and Pua, with this task. (According to many sources, Shifra refers to Jochebed, and Pua refers to 5-yr-old Miriam, who assisted her mother.)
Amram then divorced his wife, in despair from this decree. Being that he was the head of Sanhedrin, the rest of the Jews followed his example. His daughter Miriam's reaction: "Father, your decree is harsher than Pharaoh's, for Pharaoh's decree is directed only against the males, whereas yours is directed against both males and females" (Sotah 12a). Amram thereupon remarried his wife with great ceremony and all the Jews again followed suit.
My daughter, your prophecy has been fulfilled….
Before Moses was born, 7-year-old Miriam prophesied, "My mother is destined to bear a son who will redeem Israel" (Seder Olam 3, Megilla 14a). When Moses was born, the whole house was filled with light. Her father kissed her on her head and said, "My daughter, your prophecy has been fulfilled." (Megilla 14a).
When Moses was 3 months old, Pharaoh's scouts discovered the newborn baby and ordered him cast into the Nile. Jochebed then slapped Miriam on the head and said, "My daughter, where is your prophecy?" (Shemot Rabba1:22) When Moses was placed into the Nile in a basket, Miriam stood from afar to see what would become of baby Moses - and her prophecy. At that time, the astrologers told Pharaoh, "The savior of the Jews has already been cast into the water," and the decree was rescinded.
Exile and Redemption
At the age of 80, Moses received a prophecy that the redemption was near. When he relayed this message to the Jewish men, they were unable to believe it, being too embittered from their slavery and suffering.
Women have greater faith than men….
"Women have greater faith than men." (Sifre, Num. 133) Therefore, the wives rejoiced in Moses' message of salvation and continued to encourage their husbands by decorating themselves with make-up and jewelry when meeting them after their long, grueling day's work. They even fashioned tambourines in the depths of the Egyptian exile under Miriam's direction, in anticipation of the coming redemption.
After the Children of Israel escaped from Egypt and had crossed the Red Sea, Miriam and the women took up these instruments, and they danced while singing the song of redemption with complete faith and joy, following Moses' cue. Although not yet in the Land of Israel, still in exile in the desert, they had perfect faith in their full redemption.
"There were three good shepherds/providers that were given to the Jewish people: Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. And three good gifts were given in their behalf: the Manna in Moses' merit, Seven Clouds of Glory in Aaron's merit, and a [mobile] well in Miriam's merit." (Taanit 9a, Zohar III 102b) Throughout their 40-year sojourn in the desert, they ate wondrous manna, were surrounded and protected by seven Clouds of Glory, and drank water from a miraculous well. Thus were their basic needs of food, water, and shelter provided for in the desert.
When a well of water is dug, a corresponding spiritual well of water is opened in the upper worlds…
The Ari teaches that when a well of water is dug, a corresponding spiritual well of water is opened in the upper worlds, causing the spiritual energies of faith contained in the upper waters to permeate the atmosphere and giving people more faith and belief in G-d (since any action done in the physical world causes a corresponding action in the spiritual world). The Forefathers dug wells in their efforts to spread the belief in G-d to the world. Thus, Miriam's well is connected to her deep belief and faith in G-d. (Chayei Sara Parsha Sheet, by Yisroel Katz, copyright 1996 by Breslov World Center)
Miriam had two merits connected specifically with water, and there are differing opinions for which merit the well was bequeathed: watching over Moses' rush basket in the Nile in his infancy (Zohar III 103a) and exuberant praise after the Splitting of the Sea on the banks of the Red-Sea. (Bamidbar Rabba 1:2) Indeed, it was entirely to Miriam's credit that the Jews continued to procreate in Egypt in spite of Pharaoh's decrees and she even helped to keep the babies alive and supplied them with food. (Ex. 1:17; see also Sota 11b) Therefore, water - the most crucial of these needs - was in her merit. (Anaf Yosef)
In addition, the Me'am Loez explains that the "Well of Miriam" was more to the Israelites than just their source of water. When the leading clouds came to a stop it indicated to the nation that they should make camp. The arrangement of the camp as detailed in the beginning of the Book of Numbers was deliberate and divine, and directed initially by the well, which would move to the very center of the camp, marking the position of the Tabernacle. The well then overflowed and created a canal system that delineated the placement and boundaries of each tribe within the desert encampment.
The Tosefta describes it: "… like a rock full of holes, trickled and rose like the water of this small jug, it ascended mountains with them and descended to the valleys with them….the princes of Israel surrounded it with their staffs and recited over it the song "Rise up well and answer her, rise up well and answer her," (see Num. 21:17) and it bubbled and rose upwards like a pillar". (Sukka 3:11)
"And Miriam died there... And there was no water for the congregation." (Num. 20:1-2) On the tenth of the month of Nissan, Miriam the prophetess died (end of Megillat Taanit) and the people complained of great thirst. Then Moses came upon a "rock", actually the well in hiding, and hit it to provoke it to again provide water. Although Moses was punished by this episode by not being allowed into the Land of Israel, the well itself was renewed and continued to accompany the children of Israel, in his merit.
Oral Torah and Written Torah
The well-water, given in Miriam's merit, aided their understanding of the oral traditions of the Torah….
The Ari explains that subsisting on manna and roving-well water had a purpose beyond miraculous survival in the desert. Manna, given in Moses' merit, aided the Jew's understanding of the written Torah; the well-water, given in Miriam's merit, aided their understanding of the oral traditions of Torah and caused these traditions to become engraved on their hearts. In fact, the letters for the Hebrew word for "well", "be'er", are the same letters as the word for "interpretation". (Avodat Yisrael, Chukat; Pri Tzaddik, Chukat, 15)
The oral traditions of the Torah were given concomitantly with the 24 written books of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. These include laws that are called "laws of Moses, from Sinai", although not included in the Written Torah (contradicting the belief that the oral traditions were entirely a result of confusion of the law as a result of the passage of time.)
The Oral Torah is the 'feminine' recipient of the 'masculine' Written Torah….
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Chabad explains that the Oral Torah is the "feminine" recipient of the "masculine" Written Torah, as the Oral Torah fulfills the "feminine" function of developing each brief teaching from the Written Torah and nurturing it into full flower. ("LaYehudim", in Reshimois HaTzemach Tzedek on Megillas Esther)
When studying or reading the Written Torah, one recites a blessing over it even when he understands not one word, for the letters themselves are intrinsically holy and comprehension is secondary. (Likutei Torah, Vayikra, p. 5b) On the other hand, if one does not comprehend what he is learning in the Oral Torah, he is not permitted to recite the blessing over Torah, as its study without comprehension does not constitute Torah study at all.
The above notwithstanding, Jews also approach the Oral Torah with simple faith that transcends logic. Thus, a Jew will not adjudicate Torah law according to his own logical conclusions if his opinion is contradicted by an earlier Torah sage, one whose legal opinions are accepted by most Jews as binding. The above holds true even when, according to the rules of logic, the person feels himself to be completely in the right. Unlike secular wisdom, Torah logic and faith go hand in hand.
The well did not abandon the nation of Israel even after their entrance to the Land of Israel, as opposed to the Manna and the Clouds of Glory; in fact, it continues to contribute from its wondrous powers until this day. When they entered the Land under Joshua (on 10 Nissan, the anniversary of Miriam's death), the well also entered the Land, where it became hidden:
"Rabbi Chiya said: whoever wishes to see Miriam's Well should go up to the top of the Carmel and look out, and they will see a type of sieve in the [Mediterranean] sea." (Shabbat 35a) According to another source, the well sank into the Sea of Galilee: "It happened that someone who suffered from boils went down to immerse in the waters in Tiberias; it was an opportune time, and he saw Miriam's Well and washed in it and was healed". (Vayikra Rabba, 25:5)
The Ari is said to have taken Rabbi Chaim Vital on a boat in the Sea of Galilee and given him a cup of this water to drink, after which Rabbi Chaim Vital was finally able to understand the teachings of his master.
Even in our day and age, "some have a tradition to draw water [from a well] Saturday night because Miriam's Well supplies all the wells each Saturday night, and one who does so and drinks will be cured of illness" (Kol Bo, Orach Chaim, 299:10). Indeed, Miriam's Well is said to feed the waters of Israel's most important water reserve nowadays, the Sea of Galilee, while hidden in its depths.
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