“The entire congregation of the Children of Israel arrived at the desert of Tzin in the first month, and the people settled in Kadesh; Miriam died there and was buried there. The congregation had no water, so they assembled against Moshe and Aharon” (Bamidbar 20:1–2).
From the Torah’s juxtaposition of Miriam’s passing and B’nei Yisrael’s sudden drought, Rashi (ibid. 20:2) derives that only in her merit had a well miraculously accompanied them throughout the arid wilderness for forty years.
Given the terse, matter-of-fact account of Miriam’s death here – “Miriam died there and was buried there” – the Kli Yakar understands that she passed away without much notice. B’nei Yisrael didn’t appreciate who Miriam was. So the Almighty showed them – by depriving them of water. Only then did they recognize the gift of life she’d given them.
The Jewish people’s “delayed reaction” teaches us a fundamental truth – people can become accustomed to even the greatest miracles! The first time the Jews received water from the well, they must have been amazed. But when something continues for forty years, day after day, we take it for granted. That’s what happened with B’nei Yisrael. They took Miriam for granted, and they took the miracle for granted.
Concern for the Living
We often walk out of a funeral feeling that we didn’t appreciate the deceased while he was alive. That was precisely the case with Miriam. The well had been in her merit. But when she died, it was “business as usual” for her nation. Her righteousness and merit had been forgotten.
That shouldn’t be. Ideally, of course, we should appreciate a person during his lifetime. But if we don’t, let us at least try to do so afterward – to understand who he was and pay him the tribute he deserves. (Rabbi Yissocher Frand, “Two Insights: Miriam Did Not Get Eulogized and Aaron Did Not Get Complaints”)
Question for Discussion:
Over time, it’s easy to take even the most precious things for granted. What is something (or someone) you should be more grateful for in your life? And how can we continue appreciating the gifts we have, without becoming blasé?