July 2020, Parshat Chukat Balak

Dear Friends,

This week’s Torah reading is jam-packed and full of interesting things as we read the double Torah portion of Chukat-Balak. The Parsha starts by discussing the death of Miriam the prophetess. Miriam, the sister of Moshe and Aaron, was herself a leader and instrumental in the Exodus story.

When the Jewish people left Egypt, it was through Miriam’s leadership that the Jewish women believed that they would be redeemed. When Pharoah’s army was ‘hot on their heels’ it is Miriam who strengthens their resolve that salvation will come. All the women leaving Egypt followed her example and brought musical instruments so that they could play music in joy at the miraculous splitting of the sea.

Similarly, Miriam protected her brother Moshe when the Egyptian decree was to kill all baby boys. Following Moshe’s basket made of reeds, Miriam, ever the protective elder sister, ensured that he did not drown and when found, was cared for by Batya.

Interestingly, it was in Miriam’s merit that the people of Israel had water in the desert. The Well of Miriam provided water for all people and beasts. And yet, when she dies in this week’s Parsha, the Well of Water that the people of Israel had taken for granted for all those years, disappeared along with her.

In an attempt to resolve the evolving water crisis, Moshe is instructed by G-d to speak to a rock to bring forth water. Moshe, followed by his brother Aaron, instead struck the rock twice and water gushed forth, satiating the people’s thirst.

What happens next seems a very difficult pill to swallow, but Moshe is instructed by G-d that he will no longer be able to enter the land of Israel due to the fact he did not listen to G-d’s explicit command and therefore he and his brother Aaron would die in the desert-like their sister Miriam.

I have thought a lot about this outcome and the difficulty in which Moshe would have received this news. Instead of being the leader to bring the people of Israel into their land, he would be forced to leave them just as they were embarking on their biggest journey yet: statehood and nation-building.

And while Moshe is obviously disappointed and pleads with G-d, he ultimately accepts his fate.

In a single Parsha, we record the deaths of Miriam and Aaron and we are informed that Moshe too will die in the desert.

I read this Parsha and thought a lot about the influence that family and siblings have on each other.

Moshe, Aaron and Miriam were each exceptional leaders. Each occupied an important role in shaping the history of the people of Israel and each had immense potential to positively influence the Jewish people.

While it is possible that each of them could have been a leader in their own right, independent of each other, it is unlikely that they each would have achieved such greatness without the family strengthening and bonds which held them together from the beginning. Looking out for one another, supporting each other was integral to their success as leaders.

Reflecting on this example, I go into this Shabbos especially thankful for my community, family and friends who during this historically turbulent time have shown me so much support!

Thank you to all of you.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Gabi