Monmouth Torah Links

Parshas Chukas – The Living Years

Athlete Drinking

Imagine doing a strenuous workout outside on a ninety-degree summer day. The workout is tough — but you do it. You feel good. Invigorated. You go inside your house and you are thinking about one thing and one thing only – WATER. Water for a cold drink, water for a hot shower.  You open the fridge – NO WATER. You turn on the tap – NO WATER.


Now you know how the Jews felt in the desert.

In this week’s parsha, we find the Jewish people continuing their journey through the Sinai Desert, arriving in 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 question: After 40 years of traveling through the DESERT (I don’t think there were any rest stops!) — where exactly had they gotten water until now?

The Talmud asks this question and answers that throughout the 40-year journey, God provided the Jewish people with a miraculous fresh water well that followed them along their 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 says that the answer can be found by looking at the juxtaposition of the verses in the Torah, “Miriam died . . . and there was no water.” The miraculous well was in the merit of the righteous prophetess Miriam. No Miriam, no water.

However, as the Torah explicitly tells us – the water DID return – and the Talmud says that it returned in the merit of Miriam’s brothers Moshe and Aaron.

A number of commentaries raise the obvious question: If Moshe and Aaron had the merit to bring the water back – what was the point of taking it away in the first place? It seems to me that the answer can be summed up in one word: “Appreciation.” During all of the forty years of desert wandering, the Jewish people took the miracle of the water supply for granted and didn’t appreciate it.  They didn’t appreciate the water and they didn’t appreciate Miriam — she never got as much as a simple “thank you.”

God wanted to teach them an important lesson – if you don’t appreciate something, you may have to lose it to really come to realize its value.

There was a song that was popular when I was a teenager called “The Living Years.” Although I haven’t heard the song in decades, I still remember some of the poignant lyrics — “It’s too late when we die . . . I wish I would have told him in the living years.”

We all have special people in our lives, wonderful people who gift us in so many ways. No doubt, after the water was gone, the Jews realized how special Miriam was. Don’t make the mistake of the Jews in the desert — appreciate the extraordinary people in our lives and thank them today for being who they are and the special blessings they bring us.

And next time you open up your fridge and there IS refreshing cold water, raise a glass, make a blessing, and thank God for the wonderful gift of water. No need to wait until something is gone to appreciate it – let’s do it today, here and now, in the words of the song – “Say it loud, say it clear . . . in the living years.”

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