Parasha Chukat

Here is a  Parasha Insight from the website Parashat Chukat 5776

KISS OF DEATH- – Rav Yochanan Zweig -from dated July 16,2016

…Miriam died there and she was buried there. There was no water for the assembly and they gathered against Moshe and Aharon (20:1-2). Chazal (Tashbatz Hakatan 447) use this as a source of the Jewish custom of pouring out all the water in the immediate vicinity of someone who has died. This is also mentioned in the Shulchan Aruch (Yorah Deah 339.5) and the Shach (ad loc) explains that this story in the Torah is the source. The reason given is that when the angel of death uses his sword to take a person’s life he dips his sword in the nearest available water to clean his blade and the blood of the deceased, where one’s nefesh resides as it were, enters the water. We therefore pour out all the water in the immediate vicinity. Rashi (ad loc) explains that Miriam died through a kiss. This is referring to a death directly through HaShem without the intercession of the angel of death. Rashi explains that although by the deaths of Moshe and Aharon the Torah says “by the mouth of HaShem,” by Miriam’s death there is no such statement because it is not respectful to HaShem to speak in such a manner. Therefore it was, in effect, hidden. Chazal, based on the Gemara (Moed Katan 28a), explain that we know that Miriam died through a kiss by the extra word “there” that appears in the Possuk. In other words, the Torah could have simply written “Miriam died and was buried there.” From the extra word “there” we make an exegetical analysis as an analogy to the deaths of both Moshe and Aharon where the word “there” also appears by their death. Just as their deaths were through a kiss, so too was Miriam’s. On the face of it this is perplexing; why does it matter how we know that Miriam died through a kiss? An exegetical analysis is a perfectly valid way of teaching us a concept. As an example; nowhere in the Torah does it say that one must fast on Yom Kippur. The Talmud (Yoma 77b) proves the obligation from the same type of exegetical analysis. Yet everyone knows that we must fast on Yom Kippur. So too here, once we have an exegetical analogy, everyone knows that Miriam died through a kiss. So why is it considered “hidden”? Finally, if there was no angel of death involved in Miriam’s death, then how can that be the source for the custom of pouring out water in the area around one who has died?

The essential difference between the death by the hand of the angel of death and of a kiss by HaShem, is that by the angel of death a murder is essentially taking place. But by HaShem the soul recognizes its  source with which it yearns to be reconnected and the soul leaves the body willingly, and as a body without a soul cannot survive, it dies. In this case the body isn’t violated in the same way that the angel of death performs his function.  This is the explanation of Miriam dying in a hidden manner. This doesn’t mean that we do not know how she died; it’s only that her manner of death wasn’t made apparent to the Jewish people at that time because it isn’t a respectful way to conceive of HaShem. How do we know that it was hidden from them? Because they poured out all the water (“there was no water for the assembly”), indicating that they thought she died through the angel of death. 

With reference to the custom of throwing out the water from the immediate vicinity of the dead, I read  about  this custom amongst the Bene Israel , one of the Jewish communities in India. In the book “The History of the Bene-Israel of India”, Mr. H.S. Kehimkar (1937) has noted that this custom prevailed among the Bene Israel community. “After the soul has departed, water from all the pots and pans, not only from those from the apartment of the dead, but from the rooms of all the other inmates of the house, is poured away. This practice obtained among the old Israelites, and is vogue among the Bene-Israel” (p.152).