Hukkot, 27 June 2020 – Tali Artman

On this last shabbat of pride month I want to talk about people who rarely get a mention in our communities, the people who regardless of their sexual orientation are simply alone. In this parasha we read of the death of Miriam and Aaron. In between these two deaths, Moses and Aaron fall out with God over striking a rock to get water for the people who never stop complaining. I want to talk today a bit about Miriam, who died and was buried, our parahsa tells us, but was not mourned.

According to rabbinic tradition, Miriam had a well, or rather the people had a well, a reward for the merit of Miriam, created in the six days of creation, which followed them in the desert, like the pillars of fire and cloud. According to a different rabbinic legend, the well of Miriam died with her. It is not difficult to see the connection between the death of Miriam and the people’s sudden complain about the lack of water, after all, they have lost their well. The ongoing miracle of Miriam, the generous life force that she brings with her – dies. There are many reasons for Miriam to be linked to water. She has a pact of faith with water going back to Egypt. After all, she, a child, had to carry the impossible emotional weight of putting her own baby brother on the water, when the grown ups stayed far from the tragedy. It was her arm that entrusted the boy to the water, it was her faith that enabled her to stand there, containing her horror, until she saw the boy being pulled out of the water. It was she who gave Moses life, bringing him back to his mother’s milk. It was she who sang at the Red sea, of the rescuing power of God and of water. Miriam is water. She is the flowing, quiet element who sustains existence, she is full of hope and faith. The cup of Miriam, full of water, which some of us put on our Seder table commemorates just that. As the only woman in the leadership trio of the Exodus, Miriam is a stabilising element. Yet then Miriam dies, and the people bury her, but do not mourn her. And Moses and Aaron, so tired of the people’s complaints, so broken themselves, hit the rock in despair and disbelief and bring upon themselves their own death. Without Miriam, Moses becomes like a parent who upon failing to teach their child, blame the child for it. Many of us had to teach our children during this pandemic, and have faced the times when the children seemed to have forgotten what we spent hours teaching them the day before, and times when it seemed that they just refuse to learn. Faced with these realities, it is easy it is to turn into children ourselves, get angry, want to punish, hit that rock, when all that is needed is compassion. So when the water comes out of the rock,  we can imagine it to be the tears which should have been shed for Miriam, or as the tears of the frustration of God of the people’s refusal to grow up, of the regression of Moses and Aaron into disbelief.  The water that was given before without effort, in peace, by Miriam and her well, become without her and her faith, and endless patience, and with the heartbreak over her death but also of what seems like the indifference of the people to it, this water is now given by brute force. Moses breaks, and God has to go back to teaching the people and their leaders the alphabet that Miriam used to repeat to them: Nothing is impossible with faith. When it hurt – cry. When in need – ask nicely and be patient. Trust your God. And the lesson is learned. When Aaron dies at the end of Numbers 22, the people do mourn, and for 30 days. And in the next chapter when the people get their first victory they sing the song which became known as the Song of the Well. And the rabbis have the well of Miriam come back and follow the Israelites until they reach the promised land, where, as they tell us, the well is ‘archived’ or ‘buried’ in the sea of Galilee.

So this shabbat, let us remember Miriam, Who had no husband nor a wife nor kids to mourn her. Who never complained about being alone, who gave life and hope to the people. In our communities that are often cantered around families and life cycles, people who are alone can feel even more lonely. And just like Miriam, stay silent while they sustain us, and have indeed the greatest faith. This shabbat at the end of Pride month is an opportunity to acknowledge the suffering and the achievements of LGBTQ people. Today, and in honour of Miriam, I want to add to them a new category, the A, those who lived alone and often died alone, and nevertheless it is from their water that we drink, so please join me with Amen, at the end of my slightly modified prayer for the LGBTQ and community:

God, remember today our LGBTQ and A siblings who suffered in years past, those murdered by fanatics, those who perished in the Holocaust, and those who we have hurt in different ways. Remember also those who took their own lives, driven by despair by a world that hated them because of their love or gender. And in mercy remember those who lived lives of loneliness. God, remember the sacrifices that they made and help us bring an end to hate and oppression of every kind. And let us say Amen.