שבת טעם החיים חוקת תשע”א
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Chukas 5771
Wait forty years to understand
ומשם בארה היא הבאר אשר אמר ה’ למשה אסף את העם ואתנה להם מים, and from there to the well – it is the well of which HaShem said to Moshe, “assemble the people and I shall give them water.” (Bamidbar 21:16).
When the Jewish People sojourned in the Wilderness, they merited three special miracles. One miracle was the manna that fell every day. The second miracle was that they were constantly surrounded by the Clouds of Glory. The third miracle was that a stone rolled with them in the Wilderness, providing them with water for all of their needs. The Gemara (Taanis 9a) states that these three miracles occurred in the merit of the three Jewish leaders, Moshe, Aharon and Miriam. The manna descended in the merit of Moshe, the Clouds of Glory were in the merit of Aharon, and the water supply was in the merit of Miriam. In this week’s parasha we are introduced for the first and only time to the באר של מרים, the Well of Miriam. What is even more intriguing is that the Torah only discusses the Well of Miriam after she died. The Torah relates that Miriam died and there was no water for the people. The Gemara (Ibid) states that the juxtaposition of these two events teaches us that the water was in the merit of Miriam. The Jewish People complained to Moshe and Moshe and Aharon fell on their faces. HaShem then instructed Moshe to take his stick and speak to the rock and bring forth water for the people. Moshe struck the rock and brought forth water and HaShem punished Moshe and Aharon by not allowing them to enter Eretz Yisroel. One must wonder why the Torah waited until the end of the Jewish People’s sojourn in the Wilderness to record the fact that they were nourished by this water in the merit of Miriam.
In order to answer the question of why the Torah waited until the end of the forty years to discuss the Well of Miriam, it is worthwhile to examine an incident that occurs later in this week’s parshaha. It is said (Bamidbar 21:14) על כן יאמר בספר מלחמות ה’ את והב בסופה ואת הנלחים ארנון, therefore it is said in the Book of the Wars of HaShem: The gift of the [Sea of Reeds] and the rivers of Arnon. The Gemara (Brachos 54a) states that these enigmatic words allude to the incident where the Amorites attempted to ambush the Jewish People by concealing themselves in the crevices of the mountains. Their plan was to attack the Jewish People from the caves in the mountains as the Jewish People were passing through below. HaShem had the mountain from Eretz Yisroel come forward and join with the mountain that was in the land of Moav, and the Amorites were crushed in the mountains. HaShem then chose the Well of Miriam to be the vehicle that would inform the Jewish People of the great miracle that had occurred. The mountains retreated to their original positions and the Well descended into the stream below, carrying along with it the blood and limbs of the dead Amorites. When the Jewish People saw this phenomenon, they raised their voices in song. It is said (Ibid verse 16) ומשם בארה היא הבאר אשר אמר ה’ למשה אסף את העם ואתנה להם מים, and from there to the well – it is the well of which HaShem said to Moshe, “assemble the people and I shall give them water.” Rashi (versed 17) writes, “How do we know that the well was the one that informed the Jewish People of the miracle? The answer is because it is said ומשם בארה, and from there to the well. Was it from there that the well arrived? The well had been with the Jewish People for forty years in the Wilderness. Rather, Rashi writes, the well descended to publicize the miracles and the Torah records the song of the Jewish People here because of the miracles that occurred. It appears from the words of Rashi that the primary purpose of the well was to publicize the miracle that occurred when the Amorites attempted to murder the Jews. This explanation, however, is difficult to comprehend. The Jews survived in the Wilderness because of the Well of Miriam. Without water, they could have died in a matter of a few days. Yet, until the miracle with the Amorites occurred, the Jewish People did not sing the praises of the well. How can this be?
The Torah continues to relate the virtues of the well. The Gemara (Nedarim 55a) explains that the descriptions of praise attributed to the well allude to the Torah. Rashi (Bamidbar 21:20) adds that the well was dug by Moshe and Aharon and the Torah alludes to Moshe’s death, as upon Moshe’s death the well ceased to provide water. It follows, then, that there is a connection between the Well of Miriam and the Torah. We can understand why the manna was in the merit of Moshe, as the Medrash (Mechilta Bashalach) states that the Torah was only given to those who ate the manna. This statement implies that the manna was directly related to Torah study, as by eating manna, the Jewish People were able to remain preoccupied with Torah study. Moshe was the one who received the Torah on behalf of the Jewish People and furthermore, he taught them the Torah. We can also understand why the Clouds of Glory were in the merit of Aharon, as the clouds protected the Jewish People from any external harm, whether it was protection from the elements or from the gentiles. Aharon was a true seeker and lover of peace, as he always sought to defuse any discord that existed amongst the Jewish People. What was the association between Miriam and the well? The answer to this question is that the Torah states that when Yocheved placed Moshe in the water to hide him from the Egyptians, Miriam went to watch over Moshe. Miriam watched over her brother Moshe by the water, and she was instrumental in returning Moshe to Yocheved. It is clear that Moshe was granted a Jewish upbringing in the merit of Miriam. Thus, Moshe merited being the leader of the Jewish People and the receiver of the Torah, all in the merit of his sister Miriam.
We can now understand why the Torah waited until the end of the forty years in the Wilderness to discuss the well of Miriam. The Gemara (Avodah Zara 5b) states that a person does not fully comprehend the intellect of his teacher until after forty years. This idea is alluded to in the verse that the Torah states regarding Miriam. It is said (Shemos 2:4) ותתצב אחותו מרחוק לדעה מה יעשה לו, his sister stationed herself at a distance to know what would be done with him. The Gemara (Sota 11a) states that the word אחותו, his sister, alludes to wisdom, as it is said (Mishlei 7:4) אמר לחכמה אחותי את, say to wisdom, “You are my sister.” We can extend this idea and interpret this verse as follows: The wisdom stood at a distance, to know what would be done with him, i.e. with the wisdom of Moshe. Ultimately, after forty years in the Wilderness, the Jewish People were finally able to appreciate the wisdom that Moshe had taught them. Torah is compared to water, and the Jewish People were singing the praises of the well, which alludes to the Torah. The words: and from there to the well – it is the well of which HaShem said to Moshe, “assemble the people and I shall give them water,” allude to the giving of the Torah, as Hashem instructed Moshe to gather the Jews to receive the Torah. Their song was all about the giving of the Torah. They did not view themselves as true receivers of the Torah until the duration of the forty year journey in the Wilderness. According to this interpretation, we can explain the Wars of Hashem as referring to the battle that one must wage in order to comprehend the Torah.
While this explanation is beyond the simple interpretation of the verses, the Gemara and Rashi both clearly interpret the verses as referring to the Torah and to Moshe. We have gained a valuable lesson from this interpretation, and that is that we should never be quick to judge someone else. Although a person may not appear to be scholarly, we learn from the Jews in the Wilderness that one must wait forty years until he can truly comprehend someone’s greatness.
Shabbos in Action
The Mishnah in Avos states that the mouth of the well was created on Erev Shabbos. The Sfas Emes writes that this teaches us that Shabbos is the well and one can only open the well of Shabbos by preparing during the week.
The Prized Possession
The following story illustrates two crucial concepts in human relations: 1) Not jumping to conclusions, and 2) Allowing another person to enjoy “his moment in the sun.”
The intimate circle of friends of the Ksav Sofer (19th century leader of European Jewry) were among the elite of the Torah world. This distinguished group of rabbis and friends had gathered for a celebration meal at which various rabbis addressed the assembled guests. When the Ksav Sofer’s turn to speak came, he told his audience that he had with him a treasured possession that he was ready to reveal for the first time.
Everyone watched in awe as the Ksav Sofer took from his pocket an authentic half-shekel coin that was used in the time of the Holy Temple. The coin was over 2,000 years old!
The discussion soon changed to the various ancient laws regarding the half-shekel. The coin was passed from hand to hand, each person examining, fingering and caressing it gently with a nostalgic longing to be in contact even for a moment with the glorious bygone era of Jewish history.
The evening wore on and after a while the Ksav Sofer, not having seen the coin for what seemed a very long time, asked that it be returned to him. He asked the people on his right, but they didn’t have it. He asked the people on his left and they didn’t have it either. Everyone began searching for it, and soon it became obvious that it was nowhere to be found. A stony silence fell on the room.
One of the rabbis present rose and said, “Honored rabbis, we simply cannot leave this room before this precious coin is found. Perhaps everyone should empty his pockets. Who knows, maybe someone inadvertently put the half-shekel in his pocket with some of his other coins.”
A nervous stillness pervaded the room. No one was ready to accuse any of the distinguished guests of theft – nonetheless, the coin had to be somewhere.
Among the distinguished rabbis around the table sat Rabbi Yehudah Asad of Hungary, who was a good bit older than the others present. He became very pale and slowly rose from his seat, as all eyes turned to him. “Honored rabbis,” he began, “It is true, the suggestion of checking everyone is a good idea, but I must ask you that we wait before we check any pockets or take any action. Let us wait 20 minutes.” The eyes that had turned to him with respect now betrayed surprise. He caught the others’ reaction and calmly added, “I cannot explain just yet, but please be patient, wait just 20 minutes.”
In deference to his seniority they agreed. It was the last thing they had expected him to say, but they had no choice but to abide by his wishes.
The time passed with quiet conversation and speculation as to why Rabbi Yehudah had made such an unusual request. As the 20 minutes came to an end, the saintly Rabbi Yehudah got up again and addressed the now apprehensive guests. “I beg your indulgence. Perhaps you consider this strange, maybe you even suspect me of taking the coin, but please let us wait just 10 more minutes. I beg you. I will not ask for any more time.”
The rabbis and guests were perplexed and impatient. Not only was it late, but they wished to resolve the matter. Yet, once again, because of their respect for Rabbi Yehudah, they agreed to wait 10 more minutes.
Time passed slowly but after just a few minutes, the door of the room swung open and in ran the waiter wildly shouting that he had found the half-shekel among the dishes and silverware while he was cleaning the kitchen. Obviously the coin had been placed momentarily on the table and was swept off by mistake with the soiled dishes and silverware. Laughter and joy erupted, as everyone thanked the heroic waiter profusely. The Ksav Sofer was ecstatic as he beamed in relief.
In the bedlam, someone went over to Rabbi Yehudah, and soon a crowd gathered around him. “How did you know?” someone asked. “What was your reason for waiting?”
Rabbi Yehudah smiled softly and said in an apologetic voice, “My friends, it was surely not my intention to reveal to you what I now must, but under the circumstances I know you will understand.” And from his pocket he took out an authentic half-shekel coin!
After the collective gasps had subsided, he continued, “As you see, I too have a half-shekel of my own. However, when I saw the joy that the Ksav Sofer had in displaying his half-shekel, I didn’t want to show my own, for that might, Heaven forbid, diminish the pleasure he had felt in possessing such a coin.
“However, once the coin was missing and the suggestion was made that everyone empty his pockets, my own half-shekel would have been found, and it would have been almost impossible to try and explain that I had one before I came here. Thus, I asked for the delay and prayed that somehow the lost one would be found and that the Almighty would spare me the agony and embarrassment of trying to explain something that would be so difficult to believe.” (www.innernet.org.il)
Shabbpos: Ta’am HaChaim Chukas 5771
Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos
Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler
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