The Torah In Haiku: Chukat
Death of Miriam
Led the people to complain
"We have no water"
But when Aaron died
The people mourned, thirty days
No complaints mentioned
In her essay for this week's Ten Minutes of Torah, Rabbi Lisa Edwards asks why there is such a difference in the reactions of the Israelites to the deaths of these two leaders. "Is this just a case of male privilege? Or is this a case of the people beginning to learn about mourning and grief?" Rabbi Edwards even wonders if G-d's punishment of Moses when he strikes the rock at Kadesh might be due, in part, to the fact that "You did not say Kaddish … when Miriam died"?
The imagery and wordplay that Rabbi Edwards includes in her essay is wonderful. But there may be a more mundane answer suggested by her comment that "it seems to be their thirst, rather than Miriam's death, that brings the Israelites to whine and argue with Moses and Aaron."
When Aaron died, the way to move forward was clear. The priestly vestments had been placed on Eleazar before the people even knew that Aaron had died (Num 20:28-29). They could mourn the loss of Aaron because they knew that the priestly duties he had performed on their behalf would now be handled by his son. Life goes on.
But when Miriam died, "The people did not have any water" (Num 20:2). They might not have connected Miriam to water as our sages have done, but they were unable to properly mourn the loss until their more immediate needs were addressed. Life could not go on.
When someone in our community suffers a loss, friends take care of setting up the shiva house, bringing in food and attending to the basic needs of the family during shiva and, to a slightly lesser extent, during shloshim (the first 30 days of mourning). We want to make sure they have the ability to mourn properly, like the people did for Aaron, instead of having to worry about their own sustenance, which prevented the people from mourning the loss of Miriam.
Ed Nickow is a teacher and member of the Board of Trustees at Temple Chai, Long Grove, IL. This post is from his blog, The Torah in Haiku.
Image ("Mayim/Water") by Michel D'anastasio/hebrew calligraphy via Flickr