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Lessons from the Well of Miriam

And Laws of the Blessing on Water
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The Torah portion of Chukat tells[1] of the passing of Miriam, the prophetess, and of the Jewish people’s resultant thirst for water. This led to the event known as Mei Merivah (the waters of strife) when Moshe struck the rock.
According to our sages[2] the well that accompanied the Jewish people in the desert and provided them with water was a rock that functioned as a well in the merit of Miriam. Although it ceased providing water after Miriam passed away, after Moshe hit the rock it continued to function until his passing.[3] G-d caused the well to stop working after the passing of Miriam so the Jewish people should realize that the well had been providing them with water in her merit and thus recognize her tremendous righteousness.[4] Some say[5] that the well ceased functioning as punishment for the Jewish people not properly eulogizing Miriam. After it ceased functioning and they recognized her unique righteousness, they certainly eulogized her properly.

A Brief History of the Well of Miriam

The rock, known as the Well of Miriam,[6] miraculously accompanied the Jewish people in the desert for 40 years. The well was kept at the entrance to the Mishkan, near the tent of Moshe.[7] According to our sages,[8] when the Jewish people entered the Land of Israel, the well of Miriam was placed in the Kineret Sea.

Why Miriam?

Although the merit of Moshe was sufficient to cause the well to continue to operate, Miriam’s merit was necessary to get it started. More merit is needed to begin a miraculous event than to keep one going. Thus, the well continued to function in the merit of Moshe, but it was only in the merit of Miriam that it began to work in the first place.[9]
The commentaries give several reasons as to why it was appropriate that the well was in the merit of Miriam:
·        As a young girl, Miriam provided sustenance (food and water) for mothers of newborn babies. So, measure for measure, water was provided in her merit.[10]
·        As a young girl, Miriam waited by the riverbank to see what would happen to her brother Moshe who had been placed in the water.[11] It was the merit of this mitzvah that brought about the life-giving waters of the well.[12]
·        Since Miriam led the women in song at the splitting of the waters of the Reed Sea,[13] it was appropriate that the water in the desert be in her merit. It is also appropriate that just as Miriam sang, so too many years later the Jewish people sang a song thanking G-d for the well (as recorded in this week’s Torah portion[14]).
·        Since it is the encouragement of the mothers that inspires their husbands and children to achieve holiness and purity[15] it was appropriate that the water, which can act as a purifying mikvah, be in the merit of Miriam who was an exemplary mother.[16]

Torah is Like a Well

It has been pointed out[17] that, when Miriam waited by the riverbank to see what would happen to Moshe, there didn’t seem to be any purpose for this. After all, if the basket were to overturn, as a six-year-old she would have been too young to go into the river and save him. And if he were to be taken by an Egyptian, there would presumably be nothing she could do to prevent that. Nevertheless, Miriam did whatever she could do under the circumstances which was to watch and wait. With G-d’s help, she was successful.
Similarly, when one digs a well, they are not actually creating the water. They are merely digging a pathway for the G-d given water to flow.
Our sages have compared Torah to water[18] and, more specifically, to the well of Miriam.[19] When studying Torah too, one must toil, to the best of one’s ability, to understand the material. The toil in Torah should be the person’s goal, regardless of whether or not he will achieve success in his or her studies. When one does so, Hashem blesses the person with a level of understanding that far surpasses his earthly abilities.

Put in the Effort and G-d will do the Rest

There are several examples from which we can learn that we must put in our best effort, even if the goal seems beyond reach, and G-d will help to make it happen:
·        The Midrash[20] recounts how Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa wanted to donate something to the Bait HaMikdash (the Holy Temple in Jerusalem). He found a large stone which he designed and decorated beautifully. When he was finished, it was too heavy for him to carry so he sought out porters to help him. All of the porters, however, were quoting a high price which he could not afford. G-d therefore sent five angles disguised as men who said that they would do the job for five sela (a very cheap price) as long as he put his hand on it. As soon as he did this, he found himself in Jerusalem with the stone while the five men disappeared. When he told this story to the sages, they realized that the five men were angels so he gave the money he “owed” them to charity.
The question is, since it was impossible for Rabbi Chanina to lift the stone, why did the angels insist that he place his hand on it? This illustrates the point mentioned above – that one must put in one’s best effort and G-d helps with the rest.
·        Similarly, when the daughter of Pharaoh (Batya) saw Moshe in the river, he was too far out for her to reach him. Yet, when she stretched out her hand it miraculously extended, and she was able to save the baby.[21] Once again, why did Batya bother to extend her hand since it was physically impossible for her to reach the baby. The same explanation holds true. Batya put in her best effort and, in that merit, G-d helped her in a miraculous way.

Abraham’s Merit

Elsewhere the Talmud says[22] that the well was given to the Jewish people in the merit of Avraham, our forefather, who served water to the angels (whom he thought were people).
The commentaries explain that both the merit of Avraham and Miriam were necessary.
·        Some suggest[23] that it was only the combination of the merits of Avraham and Miriam that made the Jewish people deserving of this miracle.[24]
·        Another explanation is[25] that the concept of a miraculous functioning well was in the merit of Avraham but that the merit of Miriam was necessary to actually make a physical rock begin to act like a well.
·        Others say[26] that the merit of Miriam was sufficient for the well to work in settled areas. But it was only in the merit of Avraham that it also worked in the desert.
The rest of this article will discuss the laws of saying a blessing when drinking water.

The Blessing on Water

The Mishnah says,[27] “One who drinks water when he is thirsty should recite the blessing of Shehakol Nihiye Bidvaro (that everything was created with Your words) beforehand and the blessing of Borei Nefashot (the standard after-blessing) afterwards. That Talmud explains[28] that one who isn’t thirsty but drinks water in order to clear his throat should not recite any blessing on this water.
Tosfot explains[29] that water has no taste and therefor drinking it is not considered a pleasure unless one is thirsty. Whereas when drinking other liquids that have a flavor one must make a blessing even if drinking to clear one’s throat.
Similarly, one who drinks water for any reason other than to quench one’s thirst (e.g. for health reasons or to help swallow a pill) should not recite a blessing.[30]  The same applies to one who drinks water in order to ensure that he not become thirsty at a later time.[31]
If one enjoys the water we assume that he is thirsty and should recite the blessings.[32]
One who starts drinking when he is thirsty but is no longer thirsty while he continues to drink up to the amount of a Revi’it (the minimum amount for an after-blessing – approximately 3 oz.) need not say an after-blessing.[33]
One who enjoys the sensation of drinking seltzer should recite a blessing when doing so even if he isn’t thirsty.[34]
May Hashem grant us the inspiration to serve Him to the best of our abilities!
[1] Numbers, chapter 20
[2] Ta’anit 9a, Rashi on 20:2 and in various commentaries
[3] Ta’anit ibid, Rashi D.H. Be’erah
[4] Midrash Esfa and Yelamdeinu, quoted in Torah Sheleimah  and Maharsha on Ta’anit ibid
[5] Kli Yakar
[6] Presumably it got that name after the events in this Torah portion when the Jewish people recognized that the well was in her merit.
[7] Rashi on Ta’anit, ibid
[8] Rashi on Numbers 21:20 based on the Midrash Tanchumah
[9] Shela, quoted in Etz Yosef on the Ein Ya’akov, Taa’anit, ibid
[10] Kli Yakar on Exodus 17:8
[11] See Exodus 2:4
[12] Rabeinu Bachaye on Numbers 20:2
[13] Exodus 16:21
[14] Numbers 21:17
[15] See Brachot 17a
[16] Meromei Sadeh
[17] Shirat David (by Rabbi David HaKesher obm, a Rosh Yeshivah in Kol Torah, Jerusalem), Parshat Chukat
[18] See Bava Kama 82a
[19] See Bamidbar Rabbah 9:26
[20] Shir HaShirim Rabbah, 1:4
[21] Exodus 2:5 See Rashi on the verse.
[22] Bava Metzi’a 86a and Bereisht Rabbah 48:10
[23] Shela, Tractate Pesachim, Matzah Ashirah, 5 (page 112 in the Oz VeHadar print). The Shela doesn’t favor this explanation.
[24] Bamidbar Rabbah 1:2
[25] Shela ibid
[26] Yefei To’ar on Berieshit Rabbah 48:10
[27] Brachot 44a
[28] Ibid 44b and 45a
[29] Ibid, D.H. Dechanaktei
[30] Vlina Gaon in Shnot Eliyahu, Brachot 6:8
[31] Da’at Tora, O.C. 204, quoted in Piseki Teshuvot 204:15
[32] Mishnah Berurah, 204:40
[33] Birkat HaBayit, quoted in Piskei Teshuvot, ibid 14
[34] Pit’chei Halacha, quoted in ibid, 16
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach from the Holy City of Yerushalayim!

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