Saturday, June 23, 2007

Why Didn't Miriam Enter The Land?

In this past week's Torah portion — חֻקַּת — we read very briefly about the death of the Prophet Miryam, elder sister of Moshe and Aharon, who were sent with her to lead the Israelite Nation out of Mitzrayim (notice the reference to this week's parasha right in the next pasuq).

In seifer Bemidbar-Sinai/Arithmoí 20:1 we read:

And then the Israelite Nation came —
the entire community —
to the Tzin Wilderness
on the first new moon,
and the nation dwelled in Qadeish;
and then Miryam died there,
and was buried there.
וַיָּבֹאוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל
כָּל הָעֵדָה
מִדְבַּר צִן
בַּחֹדֶשׁ הָרִאשׁוֹן
וַיֵּשֶׁב הָעָם בְּקָדֵשׁ
וַתָּמָת שָׁם מִרְיָם
וַתִּקָּבֵר שָׁם

And then the people start complaining about the lack of water, and gang up against Moshe and Aharon, her bereaved brothers, who are forced to retreat from before the people to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.

God tells Moshe to speak to a rock, so that water will come out of it for the people. Instead, Moshe hits the rock, after declaring rhetorically, will we bring you water out of this rock?

According to my favorite explanation, the problem was the "we" — by implying that him and Aharon were the ones doing the bringing-out, Moshe failed to inspire the people with faith in God — instead reinforcing their tendency to see Moshe himself as the One who brought them up out of Mitzrayim.

And so God forbade Moshe and Aharon from bringing the Israelite Nation the rest of the way to their Land. Aharon dies within this same pereq at Mount Hōr (yes, i can hear you snickering back there; quit it), and Moshe dies not much later, chronologically speaking, at Mount Nevo. Both of them were told specifically why they needed to leave the world instead of accompanying their nation into the Promised Land.

But why did Miryam also die without entering The Land?


Anonymous Mar Gavriel said...

Maybe אין מוקדם ומאוחר בתורה, and the rock-incident took place in Miryom's lifetime (or even in the First Year of the Midbår, if the Exodus and Numbers stories are identical), and the נוציא included her?

6/24/2007 3:01 AM  
Anonymous Dave ( Balashon) said...

It's interesting how you can read the same story year after year, and still find new interpretations.

I heard someone quote the Netziv this week, and it was a viewpoint I hadn't heard before.

The Netziv says that the last year in the desert was a transitional year from the miraculous guidance in the desert to the natural life in Eretz Yisrael. He compared it to the process of weaning a child from nursing.

So now they were dealing with issues they hadn't dealt with before - fighting a war, snakes, lacking food, and now no water. These are all pretty normal things to encounter in Eretz Yisrael.

Now what do you do in EY when there's no water? You pray, i.e. you speak. There's no hitting rocks and water coming out. Moshe didn't realize that, and by hitting the rock, he showed that his leadership - appropriate for a miraculous age - had passed.

6/24/2007 5:18 AM  
Blogger Yehu said...

"Arithmoí" - LOL! Is this your own innovation? Very good! (Lucky you didn't make Quantumoi!)

6/24/2007 10:44 AM  
Anonymous Mar Gavriel said...

No, that's what the book is called in the Septuagint.

6/24/2007 11:15 AM  
Anonymous not a feminist said...

'cause Gd's a sexist bstrd?

6/24/2007 7:13 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Mar Gavriel:

hmmm... interesting theory; but then we might expect her to appear in that story, instead of it just being Moshe and Aharon — and for it to be mentioned at her death, like it is at theirs.

Dave Balashon:

also interesting! but what does this tell us about Miryam?


i just thought the fairly transparent nature of the Septuagint name compared to our modern English name was sort of funny

Not A Feminist:

you need more evidence to make such a claim... as it is, we're told nothing about why Miryam dies; if there was a gratuitous reference to her being female, maybe you could say something like that, but until then... next!

6/24/2007 11:21 PM  
Anonymous Elie said...

Because she was like 127 years old? Maybe her time had just come. After all, practically every else in the nation who was over *sixty* had already died.

Or is that too baal habatish an explanation?

6/25/2007 10:38 AM  
Anonymous Dave ( Balashon) said...

Well, if the association between the miraculous well and Miriam can be accepted on the pshat level, then there really wasn't a way she could have entered the land either.

6/25/2007 12:20 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


i'm not sure what you mean by 'balebatish', but it's unsatisfying; the impression given is that Aharon and Moshe would have survived a few more years at least if they hadn't sinned, so why not her too? And it's not like it says she was old, getting on in years, 'coming in days', or anything else like that. She just suddenly dies. No explanation, no details.


meaning that just as the well is dependent on her, she's dependent on the well? if the well would have to disappear, she would have to disappear?

6/25/2007 8:27 PM  
Anonymous Dave (Balashon) said...

I would say that of all the issues I mentioned above that differentiate the Midbar from Eretz Yisrael, water is the most significant. Therefore, it was clear that Miriam / the Well could not enter the Land.

However, if Moshe and Aharon had been able to adjust to the new reality, had they spoken to the rock instead of hitting it, had they understood that water wasn't going to simply flow miraculously in Eretz Yisrael - they could have made it. Sadly, they didnt.

6/26/2007 12:52 AM  
Blogger Yehu said...

Sorry, I'm not that good in Greek. Ummmm, rather, I wasn't aware of the Greek names. Somehow I never got around reading the Torah in Greek original. (and neither Goethe in Suomi original, in all fairness :-) )

6/26/2007 12:12 PM  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

I'm with Elie on this one--I think Miriam died of old age.

On the other hand, radical that I am, I think Moshe and Aharon died of old age, too.

6/26/2007 1:41 PM  
Blogger Noyam said...

Perhaps Miriam was a, for lack of a better word, k'li bechira for Moshe and Aharon. In order for Moshe and Aharon to face their test, the water had to cease. Since the water was present on Miriam's account, she had to die for it to cease.

Or maybe the "reason" for Moshe and Aharon being barred from the land, as it's told to us, isn't the whole story.

What if, as member of the tribe of Levi, Moshe and Aharon, with no chelek v'nachala, weren't the appropriate leaders for the entrance into E"Y. What if there needed to be a shift in leadership idealogy before entering the land; a military commander instead of a spiritual one (Yehoshua v. Moshe).

The people won't accept Moshe, Aharon and Miriam simply stepping down, so they had to expire with their time as leaders.

I suppose then why does the Torah mention their death as a punishment, to sully their name? Perhaps because death by punishment seems to be the only thing the Dor HaMidbar understands. It is the only death they are familiar with.

6/26/2007 6:18 PM  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Noyam, I like your interpretation. It makes sense that the conquest of the land might be better accomplished by a military leader, rather than by (a) spiritual one(s). And it does seem that the Dor HaMidbar was accustomed to thinking of death as a punishment for sin.

6/27/2007 1:08 PM  
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6/27/2007 3:23 PM  
Blogger Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

The interpretation I have offered in the past is that Miriam simply died of old age, as a commenter suggested above. This created a situation of challenge for Moshe and Aharon which they were not able to negotiate effectively. The lesson was that, without Miriam, Moshe and Aharon were not capable of leading the Jewish people on their own. Her influence was indispensible to the method of leadership the siblings had employed over forty years, and they couldn't move on without her.

7/02/2007 2:38 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

I have been bothered by this question for years - and I was really hoping to see a source with an answer here.

The best answer I have heard (but don't have a source), is that had Moshe Lead Klal Yisrael into E"Y, he would have built the Beit HaMikdash right away, the Final Beit HaMikdash that could never be destroyed - i.e., we would have entered the Messianic Age.

Given that Klal Yisrael and the world at larger were not ready yet for the final redemption, Moshe had to sin and be prevented from entering E"Y.
For this to happen, Miriam had to die so that the well would dry up.

Kol tov,


7/10/2007 4:18 PM  

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