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Of the many well-known stories found in Parshas Chukas, the death of Miriam is one which stands out. Though they did not realize it until after her death, Miriam was the one responsible for Bnei Yisrael’s survival in the desert. There was a well which followed Bnei Yisrael through the desert providing them with water during their travels; however, following Miriam’s death, the well disappeared. This showed the Nation that the water came in her merit. Let us examine the pesukim from this point.
When Bnei Yisrael saw they did not have water, they came to complain to Moshe. “ולא היה מים לעדה ויקהלו על משה ועל אהרן . וירב העם עם משה…ולמה הבאתם את קהל יהוה אל המדבר הזה…ולמה העליתנו ממצרים.” “The congregation had no water, so they assembled against Moshe and Aharon. The People quarreled with Moshe…Why have you brought the congregation of Hashem to this desert…Why have you taken us out of Egypt…” (Bamidbar 20:2-5). The Kli Yakar asks a few questions on these pesukim. When Bnei Yisrael come to complain, in Pasuk 2 it says they come to both Moshe and Aharon but in pasuk 3, when they start complaining, they fight with Moshe alone. Then in pasuk 4, it says “הבאתם”, in the plural form, showing that they complained to both of them, but in pasuk 5, they once again only complain to Moshe! What’s going on in the pesukim? Secondly, why do they complain about the problems in the desert before complaining about leaving Mitzrayim? Shouldn’t the complaints be in chronological order? Lastly, in the pesukim the Bnei Yisrael are referred to as עדה, העם, and קהל יהוה. Why the different ways of reference?
He explains that the Bnei Yisrael knew that some of what they received in the desert was in the merit of their leaders. In Moshe’s merit they received the מן, in Aharon’s merit they received the ענני הכבוד, the Clouds of Glory, and in Miriam’s merit they received the well. However, none of these things would have been necessary had they been traveling near a populated area; the fact that they were in the middle of the desert is why these things were vital to their survival. And while the taking them out of Mitzrayim was done by Moshe alone, the fact that they entered the desert was because both Moshe and Aharon knew they could survive there because of the מן and the clouds. That’s why in pasuk 2 it says that when they didn’t have water they came to complain to both Moshe and Aharon since both of them were responsible for their trek through the desert. Only afterwards in pasuk 3 does it say they complained to Moshe alone since he alone was responsible for taking them out of Mitzrayim. However, both pesukim do not write explicitly the reason for either complaint. Those are found in pasuk 4 and 5 where first they complain about the fact that they came into the desert, which was against both Moshe and Aharon, and only afterwards do they complain about having left Mitzrayim which was only against Moshe.
The next question we need to answer is why would the Bnei Yisrael complain about traveling through the desert before they complained about leaving Mitzrayim? The Kli Yakar answers that the only reason leaving Mitzrayim was a big deal at this point was because they were now in the desert. The first thing they had to complain about was the fact they were in the desert over being in an actual country. Then they complained about having left such a comfortable and wealthy country like Mitzrayim, known as “גן ה'” the Garden of Hashem, because of its’ beautiful vegetation; a far cry from the arid desert.
Lastly, the fact that they kept changing the terminology of how they referred to the Nation, had to do with how they viewed themselves. As we have explained several times throughout the Torah, when the Torah refers to the Bnei Yisrael as “העם”, it is referring to the reshaim amongst them while when the word “קהל” is used, it is referring to the tzaddikim. Taking a close look at the pesukim, we can see that when the complainers refer to themselves, they use the word “קהל” while when the Torah refers to them as “העם”. This is because while they saw themselves as being in the right, the Torah shows us the opposite. It is then very appropriate what is written in Pasuk 6 “וַיָּבֹא משֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן מִפְּנֵי הַקָּהָל אֶל פֶּתַח אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד וַיִּפְּלוּ עַל פְּנֵיהֶם…” “Moseh and Aharon moved away from the assembly to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting and they fell on their faces.” (20:6). We see that Moshe and Aharon came to daven for mercy for Bnei Yisrael, but only for the Kahal.
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