Miriam Well and Parashat Chukat

Parashat Hukat is the sixth portion in Numbers. It tells the story of the death of Miriam and the Well Song. What is the connection between Miriam’s death and the song the children of Israel sing?

Because she looked and care for her brother Moses, when he is sent as a baby on the Nile, Miriam is granted a well that follows Israel in the desert, and gives the people water. Once Miriam dies, the well disappears.

Then sang Israel this song: Spring up, O well–sing ye unto it– The well, which the princes digged, which the nobles of the people delved, with the sceptre, and with their staves.

Miriam’s well is described in magical terms: the heads of the tribes would come and sing to the well in order to receive water, “Spring up, O well – sing ye unto it”. Then, they would convey the water to their tribes. The water was in such abundance that it caused the growth of grass and trees, creating an Oasis.

When Miriam dies the well disappears. If the well followed the people for forty years in their travel through the desert, why do they sing the well’s praise only now? Bamidbar Raba suggests that they wanted to sing the praise of all the miracles they encountered, right before the end of their journey.

In order to remember Miriam’s well, and the place of women in the story of Israel’s exodus from Egypt, we place a cup of water, Cup of Miriam, on the seder table.

Image by Josh Sorenson

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