“Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it” (Koheles 11:1).
In this week’s Torah portion, we find the Jewish people, in their fortieth year of wandering through the desert, arriving at an area called Kadesh and realizing that there is no water to be found. They are (understandably) not very happy, and bitterly complain to Moshe and Aaron.
This begs the obvious question: If this was their 40th year in the desert, where exactly had they gotten water until now?
The Talmud explains that throughout the 40-year journey G-d provided the Jewish people with a miraculous fresh water well that followed them along the way. This, however, simply raises another question – what changed? Where did this well go? Why did it stop? Did Moses forget to pay the water bill?
The Talmud explains that the answer can be found by looking at the juxtaposition of the verses in the Torah itself — “Miriam died . . . and there was no water.” The miraculous well had been in the merit of the righteous prophetess, Miriam. No Miriam, no water.
Although there are important lessons to be learned from the fact that the Torah teaches only after she was gone that the water was in Miriam’s merit, equally important is why it was specifically Miriam who had been worthy of this miracle. The rabbis teach that Miriam is associated with the miraculous water in the desert because of her selfless dedication at the water.
As the Torah explicitly tells us (Exodus, Chapter 2), when Miriam’s younger brother – the future leader of the Jewish people – Moshe, was thrown into the Nile River by the cruel Egyptians, it was his sister who stood on the riverbank to watch out for his safety and to arrange for him to be brought back to their mother, Yocheved. Miriam did an act of dedication at the water; G-d repaid her and her children with the gift of life-saving water.
As hinted at in our opening epigraph, this is the way G-d runs the world. But there is an important caveat. When doing a good deed we must be like one casting the bread out to sea – having no realistic expectation of seeing it again. If we act with the intent of collecting the “bread” at a time of need, then we have never really cast it off in the first place, and there is no guarantee that we will ever find it.
The “bread” that Miriam cast at the water was her selfless good deed, which took place many decades before she saw any reward for her actions. All those long and sometime bitterly difficult years, Miriam could have thought that her kindness hadn’t been noticed – but nothing could be further from the truth. G-d never forgets. He saved the reward for her good deeds at the water for the exact moment when her people needed it most, and the Torah records for posterity that it was only because of her that the Jews survived in the desert.
Rabbi Yitzchok Oratz is the Rabbi and Director of the Monmouth Torah Links community. Shortly after receiving his semicha (rabbinic ordination) from Bais Medrash Govoha, the famed Lakewood Yeshiva, Rabbi Oratz, along with his wife Toby and family, moved to Marlboro, NJ where they co-founded the MTL community in 2001. Aside for his “Devar on the Par” that he writes for MTL, his writings have also been published on Aish, Times of Israel, Seforim Blog, Hakira, and in various Rabbinic journals. Rabbi Oratz looks forward to continuing teaching Torah in a way that is timely and timeless, and sharing meaningful Jewish experiences with the amazing MTL community.