I would like to share an idea by the Piaczezna on this week’s parsha that he wrote in 1942, in his sefer Aish Kodesh.
In this week’s parsha we read of the death of Miriam:
“And all of the congregation of Israel came to Midbar Tzin in the first month and they dwelled in Kadesh; and Miriam died there and was buried there”
Rashi points out that the manner in which Miriam died was identical to the way that both Moshe and Aharon passed away, which is referred to as the “Divine kiss of death”. The phrase used is “Al pi Hashem”- through God’s mouth, which is understood by Chazal to be taken literally and not as one would have assumed to mean “by the word or instruction of God”.
This is mentioned clearly in the story of the death of Moshe, and despite the fact that in our parsha, when Aharon dies, it is not mentioned, we do find it referred to later in Parshat Massei in the same manner.
Concerning Miriam, however the Torah never refers to her death with the phrase “Al Pi Hshem”. Rashi explains that the reason for the absence of the description is that this would seem to be “disrespectful to God”.
The Piaczezna is puzzled by the meaning of this Rashi. Firstly it would seem logical, based on our idea of anthropomorphism, that God has no physical attributes and therefore there was no actual “kiss” at all, what would be disrespectful in the description?
(I would like to add to his question by pointing out that God should also logically be gender neutral and his “kissing” anyone, even on the level of allegory, should either be fine or objectionable to both human genders!).
The Piaczezna answers that the entire focus of our discussion should be seen on a different level.
When we are commanded to do mitzvoth and we fulfill our obligation, we often feel very satisfied with our accomplishments. In many cases we have put forth intense effort, have overcome obstacles and have stood up to meet the challenges that face us. The Piaczezna explains that in each and every mitzvah we are playing out the scene here in this world, however the “behind the scenes” inspiration for the fulfillment of the mitzvah actually was provided by God. It was He that pushed us the entire way as a true partner and coach in our quest to fulfill mitzvoth. (In Kabbalistic terminology this is referred to as “itrauta d’leyla”, an inspiration from Above).
The passuk in Tehilim states “You (God) are full of kindness; for you reward a man for all of his deeds”. We are not actually deserving of all of the reward that we receive for our good deeds, after all it was God’s idea and inspiration. It is only due to His kindness that He rewards in full for that which we have done, ignoring His role in our actions.
The Piaczezna says ” a woman that has become a “tzadeket”, learns Torah and keeps all of the mitzvoth, has earned her own actions. As she is exempt from many of the mitzvoth, and yet she fulfills them, the inspiration is all her own”. The Divine inspiration that we discussed earlier only exists if there is an obligation, only then does God initiate the fulfillment of the mitzvah. If someone fulfills mitzvoth that they are exempt from the inspiration is all their own, they are a self made (wo)man.
This explains why the death of Miriam was not described as being by God’s mouth, due to the fact that it would be “disrespectful to God”. It has nothing to do with the act of kissing that would be seen as degradation to God but rather the credit would be misplaced. Miriam did indeed leave this world in the most noble of fashion as did her brothers, however God took no credit for it, in the same manner that He could take no credit for her actions, these all belonged to Miriam herself.
Miriam is the symbol of human initiative and is given full credit for her accomplishments. (In Kabbalistic terms this is known as ” itrauta d’letata” an inspiration from below).
I think that many of the accounts in which we find Miriam point to this type of behavior. We first find her, according to the pshat as the protector of Moshe when he was placed in the Nile. It is Miriam that approaches Pharaoh’s daughter and offers to find a wet nurse for him. She does not wait for miracles to happen, she makes them!! According to Chazal, Miriam actually enters the stage earlier than that. The Midrash identifies one of the famous defiant midwives, who clandestinely saved many Jewish lives as Miriam. Once again, the simple reading of the local press would lead to the conclusion of the destruction of the Jewish nation; Miriam felt the need to do something about it. In addition according to Chazal it was Miriam that convinced her parents to remarry after they had separated in depression and frustration over the futility of bringing children into a world where they were doomed. Miriam felt that it is our job to do what must be done from the practical standpoint and things will move in the direction that we push them.
It is for this reason that the well, which provided the drinking water for the nation through out their stay in the desert, was in her honor. A well represents a flow in an upward direction, which of course is impossible according to physics. When we draw from the well we are to notice that there is great potential that is waiting to be tapped all we need to do is to put forth the effort to draw it up and be able to use it.
The message is clear, let’s not wait for miracles, let’s make them happen and then even God Himself will be happy to give fair credit where it is due.