Sunday, July 01, 2012

Ralbag on what Miriam's death meant

The episode of Mei Meriva appears in the Torah immediately after the death of Miriam.   Rashi quotes from Chazal that these two episodes are related.  There was a well which traveled through the desert with Bnei Yisrael and provided them with water in Miriam's merit.  When she died, the well vanished. This led to Bnei Yisrael's demanding water, which Moshe made some error in fulfilling Hashem's plan to deliver, and hence he lost the right to enter Eretz Yisrael.  Ralbag writes that even if we put aside the Midrashic explanation that Miriam was responsible for the well, there is still a relationship between the parshiyos, one that I think runs even deeper than the one Rashi suggests.  Ralbag explains that had Miriam been alive, her leadership would have helped temper the riotous uprising of the people -- the demand for water would have never reached the feverish pitch that it did.  Miriam's death meant not simply the loss of a well, but it meant the loss of someone who could provide direction to Klal Yisrael.  (I don't think there is anything wrong with suggesting that there may have been some special quality that her specifically feminine leadership provided which was now lacking.)  He then goes on to suggest an even bigger chiddush, that had Miriam been alive, as a prophetess and older sister of both Moshe and Aharon, she would have undoubtedly been consulted by them before they took action to fulfill Hashem's command to speak to (or hit, as they misunderstood) the rock and provide water.  Had Moshe and Ahaon had had the advantage of her counsel, they would not have erred and been punished had we would have been led into Eretz Yisrael by these three giants.  Quite a mouthful -- Moshe Rabeinu, the greatest of prophets, still benefited from the advice of Miriam!  Looking back a few parshiyos, I think we can now even better appreciate the spirit in which Miriam spoke out against Moshe's separation from Tziporah.  She was fulfilling the all important role of providing counsel to her brother Moshe, counsel which he could benefit from even if he was a greater prophet than her.  


  1. great unknown10:08 PM

    which makes her punishment all the more difficult to understand. unless it was because she spoke to Aharon instead of to Moshe.

  2. Anonymous12:42 AM

    >>> some special quality that her specifically feminine leadership provided

    the Torah hints to us of Miriam's stature as a leader--

    Avraham Yitzchak & Ya'akov (co-founders of Am Yisrael), Yishmael (father
    of 12 princes & a great nation of his own), Aharon (av of the Kohanim), & Moshe (legal founder, as well as source of a potential people, told as he
    was more than once by Hashem that He would make a new & greater nation
    thru him), each of these at death was 'gathered to his people'...& so was
    Miriam (though not explicitly at the time of her physical death, but rather at the time of her death-by-busha, her social death by a terribly dispiriting turn of events; & then she was not gathered to a 'people'
    beyond, but to the immediate klal)! "aseif" is used twice, Bamidbar 12:14-15, while "am" too is used twice, 12:15-16-- Miriam was 'gathered
    to her people'! she was, obliquely speaking, of the stature
    of the male leaders/founders mentioned above, an unofficial member of the
    Principal Founders Club (charter Chairwoman, perhaps, of the eternal Jewish Sisterhood, of those unremitting women behind the men of this most
    ambitious people?) {do women risk more emotionally (risk 'death' more) in olam hazeh? are other people here & now a woman's olam haba??}

    >>> these three giants

    when Kalev (Miriam's husband? son?) saw the 3 giants (grasshoppers of the spirit) in Chevron, 13:22, he envisioned "these three"--triumphant--in their stead...

  3. I have been giving this over as peshat for years, and never realized the Ralbag said it...ברוך שכוונתי

  4. Eliezer6:50 PM

    The following is from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

    The man who gave Moses his first tutorial in leadership was his father-in-law Jethro, who warned him of the risk of the very burn-out he is now experiencing. “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone” (Ex. 18: 17-18). He then told him to delegate and share his burden with a team of leaders, much as God is about to do in our parsha.

    Interestingly, Moses’ burn-out occurs immediately after we read, at the end of the previous chapter, of Jethro’s departure. Something very similar happens later in parshat Chukkat (Num. 20). First we read of the death of Miriam. Then immediately there follows the scene at Merivah when the people ask for water and Moses loses his temper and strikes the rock, the act that costs him the chance to lead the people across the Jordan into the promised land. It seems that in their different ways, Jethro and Miriam were essential emotional supports for Moses. When they were there, he coped. When they were not, he lost his poise. Leaders need soul-mates, people who lift their spirits and give them the strength to carry on. No one can lead alone.
    (end quote.)

    I personally would think that needing a soul mate is a weakness and not common among powerful and charismatic temporal and certainly not among spiritual leaders. I don't believe Moshe Rabbeinu needed Tziporah, or Yisro, or Miriam. He needed only himself and the Ribono shel Olam, and it was a chesed on his part that he protested when Hashem offered that he become the sole patriarch of a new nation.

  5. chaim b.7:26 PM

    >>>I personally would think that needing a soul mate is a weakness and not common among powerful and charismatic temporal and certainly not among spiritual leaders.

    Of course Moshe is in his own category, but the spiritual leaders I have observed in my life most definitely were influenced and shaped by their "soul mates" and I think would admit to feeling lost without then. To take one example, RYBS came before my time, but from what I have read it seems that he was a different person after the loss of his wife. For all his sharpness, charisma, and brilliance, the Rav, a cold Brisker and 'lonely man of faith,' needed a soul mate. I am sure the same can be said of other gedolim. Were the Avos lesser leaders than Moshe because they were married to the Imahos? Was Avraham weak because he mourned the loss of Sarah? I find that hard to accept.
    I don't like the word need that you use. I would say that Moshe definitely benefited from having a relationship with Tziporah. See Maharal in Gevuros Hashem end Ch 19.

  6. Eliezer11:05 AM

    I don't have the Maharal. I still say that while some are enhanced, an equal number are inhibited and would be better off celibate, but I agree that a helpmate is a resource of high potential.