Sometimes a radical shift in circumstances presents an opportunity. In Numbers 20:1 we read that Miriam dies. Immediately after in Numbers 20:2 we are told that the Israelites were without water. Rashi comments that from this we learn that the Israelites had the well through Miriam’s merit and therefore her death caused the Israelites to no longer have water. Without Miriam’s well the Israelites need to find water by different means and so follows one of the Torah’s most well-known stories, Moses trying to get water from the rock. Here, in the same parasha, parashat Chukkat, Moses hits the rock rather than talking to it as God had said for him to do and so is punished. Moses is told that he will not be able to enter Israel, the promised land, with the rest of the Israelites that he has been leading for all those decades.
Shortly after the incident with the Rock, in the same parasha, Aaron dies. All in one parasha we see the death of Miriam, the death of Aaron and Moses being excluded from entering Israel. This sequence of events leaves the Israelite people without their leaders who have carried them through from their freedom from slavery to their development as a people and nation.
Just two parashiot before this we read of how no-one over the age of 20 will not be able to enter Israel. The Israelites must wander the desert for forty years and the new generation, who have not known slavery, will be the ones to enter Israel. How can a people be totally free and independent if they are so reliant on their leaders? Now the Israelites lose their core leadership in one fell swoop and they must learn to trust new leadership and gain their own independence.
The sequence of events in parashat Chukkat teaches us that sometimes we need radical change or to be pushed away from what we have always known and relied on to be able to find that independence and be truly free.
Rabbi Anna Posner