Miriam, Moses and Aaron
Parshat Hukkat, Numbers 19 – 21: 1
As I was reading this week’s parsha I thought about the extraordinary link between three siblings- Miriam, Moshe and Aaron. Miriam, the oldest of the three, watched over baby Moses, trying to help keep him as safe as possible under impossible circumstances. Moshe (Moses) spent his earliest years with his mother and sister until he was returned to Pharaoh’s daughter where he grew up in wealth and entitlement.
The Torah/ Bible narrative focuses on Moshe the great leader of the Israelites. When he argued with Gd at the site of the burning bush Gd sent Aaron, Moshe’s older brother, to be his support and mouthpiece. From that time on the two brothers traveled together.
Miriam didn’t appear again until the Israelites had crossed the Red Sea. She is called a prophetess and was accepted as a leader with her brothers. According to Midrash Miriam’s presence brought water throughout the desert journey. She died in parshat Hukkat and the water disappeared.
This parsha shows the unity and relationship of the three siblings in a touching way. They led the nation together in almost constant agreement. (Naturally there were some blips here and there.) I imagine that they encouraged each other and were there for moral support.
When Miriam suddenly died and was buried the Israelites complained about being thirsty. Gd commanded Miriam’s two grieving brothers to speak to a rock and make water flow. Instead, Moshe hit the rock, calling the people “rebels”. He used the Hebrew word מרים (morim)- which is the same spelling as their late sister’s name. It seems they were so distraught they couldn’t follow Gd’s instructions properly.
Gd punished the two brothers for their disobedience. Aaron would die immediately and Moshe would not be allowed to enter the Promised Land. When the sister who saved Moshe died it was the true end of a strong, unified leadership, with her brothers having the end of their lives foretold.
Throughout Bereishit we read about sibling relationships. None of them were as unified or supportive as this one. It is interesting that they embarked on such a difficult journey together. They led together and in a way they died together. It was the end of their leadership but the beginning of a legacy and an example of inspired, cooperative leadership.
I hope this added a new way of looking at Miriam and Aaron’s deaths, and the beauty of family ties.