Tuesday, June 18, 2013

the death of Aharon and Miriam

Why does the Torah need to tell us that Hor HaHar, the burial place of Aharon, was on the border of the land of Edom?  Rashi (20:23) explains that it was because Bnei Yisrael drew close to Edom that they lost Aharon.

All Bnei Yisrael did was ask Edom for passage through their lands, and since Edom did not grant permission, they were forced to circumnavigate their whole territory – what kind of contact was there that would cause the death of Aharon? 

The Shem m’Shmuel writes that the problem was the message sent to Edom (20:14), “Koh amar achicha Yisrael,” “This is what your brother Yisrael has to say…”  We are not brothers with Edom.  And while it is true that the navi Malachi says (1:3), “Ha’lo ach Eisav l’Ya’akov,” “Is not Eisav the brother of Ya’akov,” the navi is careful to use the name Yakaov, not the name Yisrael.  Biologically of course we are related to Eisav, but when we speak of ourselves as Yisrael, the name that alludes to our spiritual greatness, we need to recognize that we are alone and apart from all other people. 

Even though that message to Edom was sent by Moshe, and even though it was for the purpose of reminding Edom that as our brother they should have shared the burden of Egyptian slavery with us and therefore they owed us, there was still something wrong with it.

The Shem m’Shmuel does not spell out what the midah k’neged midah is here, so I just wanted to add my own two cents.  Aharon’s life work as a rodef shalom v’oheiv shalom was to increase achvah, brotherly love, within Klal Yisrael.  The use of the term “achicha,” brother, when speaking to a descendent of Eisav, proved that we did not fully appreciate what the value of true achvah is; we did not appreciate the value that Aharon dedicated his life to install in Klal Yisrael.  Therefore, Hashem took Aharon from us at that moment.

On another note, the episode of Mei Meriva gets so much attention in the meforshim that we almost forget that last week’s parsha tells us of Miriam’s death as well.  We know why Moshe and Aharon did not merit entering Eretz Yisrael; however, my wife pointed out, we are never told why Miriam died in the midbar.  Anyone have any ideas?

(Update: Here is an obscure Midrash quoted in the Torah Shleima that has an answer, but I am not sure what to make of it.)


  1. Why do we need suggestions? Wasn't Miriam about as old as Sarah when she died? We need an explanation why a 127 year old women didn't make it to 128? And if there is something to find meaning in, how about that "coincidence" in age?

    For that matter, I wondered about Moshe and Aharon as well. Moshe died at the promised 120 for any human (as per Bereishis 6:3). Aharon lived to 123, which according to Y-mi Shabbos, the number of times the tzibur answers "Hallelu-Kah" to Hallel. (Ben Asher doesn't have a single word "Hallelukah" in his Tehillim, so I assume the Y-mi didn't originally either.)

    Once the meraglim forced the entry to EY to beyond their normal lifespans, why is it perceived as an onesh, rather than the lack of a special neis, that HQBH didn't extend them?

    I realize this isn't a question on your blog post, but an exposition on why I don't understand that pasuq.

  2. 1. In Devarim 33:8, Rashi says אם משה אמר (במדבר כ, י) שמעו נא המורים, אהרן ומרים מה עשו. So at least he's pointing out the same question. Unfortunately, Rashi's point there is that the answer is unknowable.

    2. Right before Bnos Tzelafchad, Rashi (26:64) says ובאלה לא היה איש וגו': אבל על הנשים לא נגזרה גזרת המרגלים, לפי שהן היו מחבבות את הארץ. האנשים אומרים (במדבר יד ד) נתנה ראש ונשובה מצרימה, והנשים אומרות (במדבר כז, ד) תנה לנו אחוזה. and that's why this passuk is placed near the story of Benos Tzelafchad.

    So the women were not in the gezeira. But, as Micha says, that's not a reason for people to live forever! Still, Rashi finds it difficult to understand why Miriam did not live to enter Eretz Yisrael, despite her advanced age. I assume this is because either her Zechus should have enabled her to enter, or that the timing of her death so soon before they went in implied a special reason that she should not enter.

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  4. Note the wheels within wheels here. It was Miriam's death that lead to the scenario for Mei Merivah. In a sense, Miriam was a factor in Moshe being born, and a factor in his death. Zos chukas haTorah, indeed.

  5. Women. Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em.

  6. It's very indirect, but it was Miriam's lashon ha'ra about Moshe that opened the door to more lashon ha'ra on the part of the meraglim about Eretz Yisrael (Rashi makes the point that they failed to learn the lesson from Miriam) and that sank everyone.

    google told me that Rav Frand has an approach to the question here:

  7. google is really a wonderful thing:


    #23 there. So it's an obscure Midrash that asks the question. I don't understand the first answer (that she had to die because the well vanished) because I thought the well vanishing was an effect of her death, not the cause. As for the second point, I am sure it will strike many as unfair.


  8. From Wiki:
    Midrash Esfah (Hebrew: מדרש אספה) is one of the smaller midrashim, which as yet is known only from a few excerpts in Yalḳuṭ and two citations in Sefer Raziel and Ha-Roḳeaḥ.

    Even granting that Medrashim should have some consistency, why would you think this kind of Medrash would fit in neatly?

  9. I have no problem if it contradicts other statements in Chazal. I have a problem in this case with the internal logic being used. That's a fair question on anything.