Miriam’s WellJanuary 9, 2014 - 5:00 am
“I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink. So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel.”—Exodus 17:6
The Torah portion for this week is Beshalach, which means “when he sent them away,” from Exodus 13:17–17:16, and the Haftorah is from Judges 4:4–5:31.
In June 2013, it was reported that an archaeologist made an amazing claim. He had found a large, rock-like structure on the bottom of the Sea of Galilee. Based on Jewish tradition, this man was sure that he had discovered “Miriam’s Well,” a phenomenon that has its roots in this week’s Torah reading.
Toward the end of this portion, the Israelites have begun their 40-year sojourn in the desert. They have also begun what would be characteristic of that time — complaining. Warranted or not, the Israelites spent a lot of time whining over what they lacked, and in chapter 17, they complained about the lack of water. God instructed Moses to strike a particular rock with his staff, and then miraculously, water poured out of it.
The Sages teach that this rock became a portable well that would accompany the Israelites wherever they went. Up mountains and through valleys, the well was a dependable source of water for the nation. The next time we hear the Israelites complaining about thirst is just after Miriam’s death. The Sages explain that the portable well had been given to the Israelites because of Miriam’s merit. It was “Miriam’s Well,” and when she was gone, so was the miraculous source of water.
The Sages ask: What happened to the well itself when Miriam died? What happened to the rock from which miraculous waters once sprang? They answer that it was moved to the bottom of the Sea of Galilee. Writings throughout the centuries indicate that the precise location of Miriam’s Well was once well-known, and now it is believed to have been rediscovered. However, what we still need to understand is, why? Why would the Israelites have chosen to move that enormous rock into the bottom of the sea?
When the children of Israel lived in the desert, it was a glorious existence. They enjoyed daily miracles in the form of manna that fell from the sky, the protection of the clouds of glory by day, and the guidance of the pillar of fire by night. They experienced countless miracles in the desert, one of which was Miriam’s Well. However, with entry into Israel, the time of miracles was over and natural life began. The people wanted to teach their children that nature, too, is the hand of God, so they put Miriam’s Well at the bottom of the sea as a reminder: Even though we enjoy many things in our lives that seem to come from nature, the source is always God.
Let’s think about that as we enjoy our blessings today. From the food we eat to the water we drink, they are all “natural miracles,” but no less the work of God.