Rabbi Yoni Kirsch
Rabbi Yoni Kirsch Yair Yulis

The End of an Era

In this week's Parsha there is an expression describing the nation of Israel, that is mentioned twice – "Kol Ha'eda ''- referring to the entire, full congregation. Rashi explains that this serves to emphasize that this week's Parsha, Chukat, is taking place after the forty years of wandering in the Desert has ended, and now, the entire previous generation has perished and died. Now, we are left only with the young new generation that intends on entering Eretz Yisrael immediately (Rashi, Bamidbar 20:1, 20:22).

Thirty-eight years passed between last week's Parsha and this one. Not only did the whole nation expire, but sadly, in this week portion all three leaders also pass: Miriam dies (20:1), Aharon dies (20:22), and Moshe Rabbeinu is punished by not being allowed to enter the land of Israel. He dies a short time later. (Rashi 20:12).

Three Leaders – Three miracles

With the passing of these three great leaders, Am Yisrael also loses three miraculous benefits they enjoyed throughout the years in the desert. In the merit of Moshe, we had the Manna bread, special food falling from the sky. Due to the merit of Aharon, we had the "Ananei Hakavod" (clouds protecting us from all sides), and thanks to Miriam's merit, we had the "Be'er" (well of water). The moment each one of them passed away we lost that specific miracle they were responsible for (Shir Hashirim Rabba 4).

It seems that this is no coincidence. Each and every one of these miracles suits perfectly the character, spiritual way of life, and unique way of leadership that each one presented.

Moshe and the Manna- Torah from an Upper World

Moshe Rabeinu brought us the Manna, the bread from heaven. This was also a test whether the Nation of Israel would have faith in being dependent in Hashem (Shemot 15:4). From the first day of his life, Moshe proved his belonging to an upper world. Chazal taught us that when he was born, the house was filled with light (Shemot 2:2). Later on, at Mount Sinai, Moshe goes up to heaven, by himself (Shmot 24:2). He is characterized for being separated and uplifted from this world- not eating or drinking for forty days while receiving the Torah (Devarim 9:9), and eventually separating himself from marriage to be available constantly for communicating with Hashem (Masechet Shabbat 87:1).

When he sees that the reality among the Jews is not meeting the standards of Shamayim, so that the sinning with the golden calf occurs- he breaks the Luchot - tablets - (Shmot 32:19). Here we see how the miracle of the Manna bread fits Moshe's style of leadership perfectly.

Aharon and the Ananei Hakavod – the love and holiness of the Jewish people

Aharon, Moshe's brother, has a completely different style. He is part of the real world and is close to the people. He is known for bringing peace between man and wife and stopping out disputes between loved ones. That is why when he dies, all of Israel cry and mourn him (Rashi : Bamidbar 20:29).

Regarding the sin of the calf, we see that he surprisingly participates in trying to save the nation from transgressions (Rashi: Shmot 32:2-3), constantly trying to postpone the sin and eventually, amazingly, even taking charge of the act in order to take the blame! This teaches us that Ahron Hakohen's main value in leadership was his love for the People of Israel and being there for them wherever they are and whatever level they are on.

He completely believes in the holiness of the Jewish nation. This can also explain a Halakhah regarding the blessing of the priests that requires the Kohanim to bless "with love". If a Kohen hates someone in the congregation or somebody hates him, he is to refrain from citing the blessing (Mishna Berura, Orach Chayim 128: 38). The Ananei Hakavod had the same effect- they protected Am Yisrael and showed the great love Hashem has for Am Yisrael. Therefore, it is most appropriate that in Aharon's merit he is responsible for the appearance of this.

Miriam's well- the deep faith in redemption

Our third leader is Miriam. Throughout her life Miriam is known for her great faith in redemption. She is also optimistic and sees the future beyond the challenging current events. In Egypt she is a midwife (Rashi Shmot 1:15) and, believing in the future and salvation from the Egyptian slavery, she convinces her father to remarry her mother after he lost hope in having more children. She prophesied the birth of her brother, Moshe, as to be the future leader and redeemer of the Jewish people.

Thanks to this optimistic approach we are still here today. Later on, we discover that after the splitting of the Red Sea she sings with the women who had their drums and musical instruments r ready for the miracles, proving great faith in Hashem's redemption (Rashi Shmot 15:20).

Miriam's leadership has great faith in the Geula, she believes and acts accordingly, is optimistic and finds the strength within to see the next stage. This is just what the well of water is all about- water and blessing from the depth of the earth and reality. It seems that it is no coincidence that Miriam's well eventually enters Eretz Yisrael and ends up in the Kinneret (Rashi Bamidbar 21:15), because Eretz Yisrael represents redemption and the future. Miriam's great love of Eretz Yisrael can also be apparent by her marriage to the great lover of the land, Kalev ben Yefuna (Masechet Sota 11:2) who did not stumble into the sin of the spies and called out with the same optimism and courage: "Let us go up at once, and possess the land for we are able to overcome it"."

In short, we can say that we have three different characters representing three basic values in their personalities and styles of leadership:

Moshe- The Manna bread which symbolizes Torah.

Aharon – the Ananei Hakavod – symbolizing Am Yisrael.

Miriam represents the well of water, corresponding to Eretz Yisrael.

Shabbat Shalom!

For another Dvar Torah - "Recipe for a Perfect Red Heifer" - on Parshat Chukat.

Rabbi Yonatan Kirsch was born in NJ but grew up in Ginot Shomron after his parents moved to Israel. He teaches at the Hesder Yeshiva in Sderot, where he lives with his wife and family, after receiving his semicha from the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. He is author of the book "Ma'alot Hamikve", published by Dabri Shir, and served as a combat soldier, is a certified tour guide