Chukat: Mayim Chayim (Living Waters)

Parshat Chukat is a parsha of leavetaking and loss, yet it also contains the seeds of renewal and hope for the future. This is reflected in the imagery of the be’er, the well of water which dries up and then flows once again, yet differently. 

The parsha begins in the fortieth year, when the desert generation has mostly died out. Both Miriam and Aaron pass away and Moshe is told he too will not enter the land. The parsha also contains the hopeful image of Bnei Yisrael (the next generation) poised across from Jordan, readying to enter the land of Israel. With Miriam’s death, Bnei Yisrael cry out for water. Later, the people sing to a well which brings forth water. The Tosefta Sotah explains that there was a be’er which accompanied and sustained Israel for forty years in the desert in Miriam’s merit. After she died, the well disappeared and returned in Moshe’s merit. 

However, Ramban suggests that this may be a new be’er. There are numerous elements which support this position. First, this is the first time the people take an active role and sing for water. Second, the song states “Az yashir Yisrael…” As opposed to the splitting of the sea, when the people sang with Moshe and Miriam, here they sang independently. This be’er represents the passing down of tradition alongside new characteristics. This can be applied to Torah too, which is called “mayim chayim.” Each generation receives it and imbues it with new meaning.

This week the Jewish world lost a great Talmud scholar. Rabbi Prof. David Weiss Halivni represented the transition from the old world of Torah erudition to a post Shoah world, with new approaches to critical study of the Talmud. I, like so many others, am grateful to have merited to drink from the well of his brilliant Torah. May his memory and teachings be for a blessing. Shabbat Shalom – Karen Miller Jackson

  • photo from Columbia.edu

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