Chapter 20 in the book of Numbers divides between the generation that left Egypt, and the generation that will enter the Land of Israel. In this chapter we suddenly fast forward 38 years, from the second year after the Exodus (during which all of the Book of Numbers took place) until the 40th year in the desert.
(1)The entire congregation of the children of Israel arrived at the desert of Zin in the first month, and the people settled in Kadesh. Miriam died there and was buried there. (2) The congregation had no water; so they assembled against Moses and Aaron.
Our Sages connect these two verses by cause and effect (Tosefta Sota 11a; Rashi on the verse, and others): ‘As long as Miriam was alive, a well watered Israel. When Miriam died what does it say? “And Miriam died there and there was no water for the congregation”, as the well disappeared.
The well is mentioned as one of the gifts associated with the three leaders in the desert:
‘Since Israel left Egypt there were appointed three good supporters: Moshe, Aron and Miriam. In their merit, they (Israel) received three gifts… a well in the merit of Miriam, the pillar of cloud in the merit of Aron, manna in the merit of Moshe; When Miriam died- the well was canceled.’ This well is described in another place in the Tosefta (Sukka 3/11) in more detail: The well that was with Israel in the desert- resembling a boulder with many holes, like a sieve, bubbling and rising… going up mountains with them and down into valleys, in places where Israel camped, it resided across from them, in a high place across from the entrance to Ohel Moed, the princes/chiefs of Israel come and surround it with their staffs and recite the song ‘Come up well and answer her. Come up well and answer her’ and they bubble and rise like a pillar, and each one pulls his staff, a man for his tribe and a man for his family.”
Some suggest that the well in Chapter 21:16, is the well of which God said to Moshe, ‘Gather the people, and I will give them water’ is the same well the disappeared with the parting of Miriam, and that is the boulder that Moshe hit. [Read more…]