Finding Understanding in Suffering
Rabbi Yaacov Haber
Moshe was upset. His dear and beloved sister Miriam had died. Moshe was worried. The well that followed the Jews around in the desert had dried up; there was no water. The people got thirsty and began to complain. They were after all in a desert! Moshe said, “Shimu na hamorim! Hamin hasela hazeh notzi lachem mayim?” “Hear, you morim (rebels) –– will we get water from this rock?” In other words, he said, “my sister Miriam died; Miriam was able to bring water out of a dry rock. What can I do? Why are you complaining to me?”
Moshe was grieving for his sister. In his frustration, when he admonished the people, he called them “morim” which has the same letters as Miriam (MRYM), he was saying: Miriam is dead – how will I ever be able to get water from a rock without her?
Miriam occupied a very special and crucial role amongst the Jewish people. She was always able to find understanding in bitterness and suffering; she was able to find water in a hot, dry stone. It was because of this unique quality that Miriam merited a miracle of the flowing well in the desert. Miriam was named after the bitterness of the times she was born into. (Shmos Rabba 26) She always managed to sweeten the bitterness. Miriam was able to bring Amram and Yocheved together again, creating the possibility of Aharon and Moshe being born. She saw light in absolute darkness. When little Moshe was placed in the fierce Nile, Amram was angry, Yocheved cried, but Miriam waited. G-d must have something in mind – we have to wait and see! She sweetened the bitter waters. Whenever Moshe and Aharon disagreed, Miriam resolved the conflict. Miriam resolved contradiction: she integrated the truth of Moshe with the compassion of Aaron. Miriam always sweetened the bitter waters. Who will do that for us now? Who can take water out a dry rock? This was the cry of Moshe.
Sometimes there’s a person in our lives or in our family who brings everything together, who provides context for separate and even opposite parts. Somehow, through amazing insight, that person can resolve all tensions and hold the whole family in one space. And when that person dies, suddenly everyone becomes separate parts again, and the members don’t gets together any more unless they really have to. This is what Miriam did in the family of Amram.
Miriam brought the well, the Be’er. And this is the Biur, the deeper understanding of life. She brought the insight that emerges from low and dark places, and from which perspective you can suddenly see how things fit together. The sweetening of bitter waters is the achievement of a new, deeper and broader perspective.
Moshe grieved, cried and in his frustration he hit the rock. At this moment he saw everything through his tears, and all he saw was a dry rock in the middle of a huge desert. But, a spectacular miracle took place. Water began to gush forward. Moshe took water from a rock! Moshe did what Miriam used to do. He, too, had the capacity to sweeten water. The Talmud says that the well returned to the people in the merit of Moshe. His sin –“You didn’t believe in Me.” (said G-d) You didn’t believe that I would give you the strength – but I did.
Maybe Moshe’s test here was to rise to the occasion and do what Miriam always did, and express her essential quality in this world. Moshe typically didn’t see Miriam’s work as his thing – but it was.
We hear so often that there is no one to solve our problems and the problems of our people. Who can bring unity to our community? Who can improve the schools in our community? Who can handle the kids at risk? Who can solve the Agunah problem? Who can bring safety and peace to the Middle East? Who can stop Sinas Chinam? The answer is, HaKadosh Boruch Hu can – as long as we try. If you have a problem, fix it. It is futile to bemoan all those great people that are no longer with us. Talk to the rock! Moshe surprised himself as water once again flowed to every corner of Klal Yisroel.
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