Parshat Chukat describes the third time that the Jews complained about a lack of water (20:1-14) as they arrive at a place named Kadesh. Between the people arriving and complaining, we are briefly told that Miriam dies and is buried in Kadesh (20:1). The passuk (verse) immediately following Miriam’s death starts with, “and the congregation had no water…” which makes it seem that the shortage of water was a direct result of Miriam’s passing. Why is Miriam’s death relevant to this third water shortage? Furthermore, the second water shortage was resolved by Moshe hitting a rock (Shemot 17:6). Why was Moshe punished for hitting the rock when he’s done it before with positive results?
Rabbi David Fohrman explains that Miriam’s strength lies in her faith that things will work out. This conviction was in evidence when Moshe was placed in the river, and Miriam watched from a distance to see how things worked out. Miriam’s faith was thenceforth associated with water, such that the rock that supplied the Jewish people with water traveled with them and stopped providing water when Miriam died. Now that Miriam is gone, G-d needed a new champion to take over. Moshe, however, failed this test by not following directions exactly as they were given, displaying a lack of faith that disqualified him from leading the people into the Promised Land.
Miriam had a positive energy that benefited everyone around her. When she died, it highlighted to everyone around her how important a positive attitude is to one’s well-being, a lesson that also prevented Moshe from entering Israel. Our Parsha helps us understand that life can be as good as our attitude and mindset.