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Monday, July 09, 2007


The Significance of Miriam's Well - UPDATED!

A bit over two weeks ago, we read the Torah portion of Chukas. Among the verses we read was the following:

And Miriam died there... And there was no water for the congregation (20:1-2). The Gemara expounds on this:
Three great providers arose for the people of Israel--Moshe, Aharon and Miriam--through whom they received three great gifts: the well, the clouds [of glory], and the manna. The well was in the merit of Miriam, the clouds in the merit of Aharon, and the manna in the merit of Moshe.
When Miriam died, the well was removed, as it says, "And Miriam died there..." and, immediately afterward, "And there was no water for the congregation." The well then resumed in the merit of the other two.
When Aharon died, the clouds of glory were removed, as it says, "And the Canaanite, the King of Arad, heard ...and waged war on Israel." He heard that Aharon died, and thought that he now had license to attack Israel [because the clouds of glory which protected them were gone. The well and the clouds] then resumed in the merit of Moshe alone. (Talmud, Taanit 9a)

Why am I discussing this now? An amazing discovery has taken place today, which received very little coverage, except on some Hebrew news websites.

[Yesterday], the only English coverage I found was on Arutz Sheva's News Briefs:

Miriam's Well - Found in the Kinneret
(IsraelNN.com) The spot of Miriam's Well, as identified by the 16th-century Kabbalist sage Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (also known as the Arizal), who lived in Tzfat, has been found once again. Talmudic tradition has it that the source of water for the Israelites during their 40 years in the desert was the Well of Miriam, and that when they arrived in the Promised Land, the Well was "deposited" somewhere near Mt. Carmel or in the Kinneret [Sea of Galilee]. The Arizal identified the exact spot of the Well as being near or between certain ancient pillars in the Kinneret. These pillars have now once again been found, just south of the Tiberias Municipal Beach.


Much more detail, in Hebrew can be found on the Hebrew NFC news website, which broke the story.

A brief summary:
This Well traveled with the Jewish People throughout the forty years of wandering in the wilderness. When we reached Eretz Yisrael, the Well was hidden in the Kinneret. This tradition was passed on from generation to generation, but the exact location was known to but a very few people.
When the Arizal [Rav Yitzchak Luria] came to Tzfas in the 16th century, he identified many unknown or forgotten locations, such as the gravesites of the Chachmei HaMishna – the Tannaim, authors of the Mishna. He also identified the exact location of Miriam’s Well in the Kinneret, which was described, albeit vaguely, in a sefer called "Shaar HaGilgulim [Gate of the Reincarnated]."
Modern-day research, led by an archeologist named Yossi Stefansky and Rabbi Yisrael Hertzberg, has led to the discovery of another lesser-known sefer, called "Naggid U’mtzaveh [Tell and Command]," by R. Yaakov Tzemach. Written 60 years after the passing of the Arizal, it gives a precise location of the Well, as described by Shmuel Vital, son of Rav Chaim Vital who was a talmid of the Arizal and had once accompanied him to the Well [see story below].
The description revealed that the Well was to be found between two pillars of an ancient synagogue, apparently from the Talmudic era.
Based on these descriptions, archaeologist Stefansky searched the shores of the Kinneret in and around Tiveria, and found what appears to be the remains of the pillars. They are located south of the municipal beach, near the shoreline of the Holiday Inn Hotel (formerly the Ganei Hamat Hotel). Four hundred years ago, the site was underwater, as the level of the Kinneret was some two meters higher than it is today. It is known that the waters of the Kinneret have been receding over the years...

The tradition of this location, as mentioned, was known to locals, and even recorded in more recent sefarim, such as the sefer Chibas Yerushalayim [Love of Jerusalem] by R. Chaim HaLevi Horowitz in 1844. The black and white picture, also found by Stefansky in the archives of the Antiquities Authority in Jerusalem, clearly indicates the pillars as they stood about 100 years ago.

Just a few hours ago, Arutz Sheva released this in English, where you can read the rest of the details.


The only other blogger who seems to be covering this is Nava at her Dreaming of Moshiach blog, who also reveals some amazing info!


As mentioned yesterday, I have culled the Net for info on Miriam's Well, to give us a concept of its significance in the words of our Sages and those who followed them. I have linked to the sources, but have also interwoven some of the material for this blog:


1. Transporting Spiritual Energy
from Kabbalah Online:
Miriam's Well
"There were three good shepherds/providers that were given to the Jewish people: Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam. And three good gifts were given in their behalf: the Manna in Moshe’s merit, Seven Clouds of Glory in Aharon's merit, and a [mobile] Well in Miriam's merit." (Taanit 9a, Zohar III 102b) Throughout their 40-year sojourn in the desert, they ate wondrous manna, were surrounded and protected by seven Clouds of Glory, and drank water from a miraculous Well. Thus were their basic needs of food, water, and shelter provided for in the desert.
The Ari teaches that when a Well of water is dug, a corresponding spiritual Well of water is opened in the upper worlds, causing the spiritual energies of faith contained in the upper waters to permeate the atmosphere and giving people more faith and belief in G-d (since any action done in the physical world causes a corresponding action in the spiritual world). The Forefathers dug Wells in their efforts to spread the belief in G-d to the world. Thus, Miriam's Well is connected to her deep belief and faith in G-d. (Chayei Sarah Parsha Sheet, by Yisrael Katz, copyright 1996 by Breslov World Center)
And Miriam died there... And there was no water for the congregation (20:1-2)
A person may ingest the ingredients of life, but these will not vitalize him without the fluids that course through his body. The food swallowed by the stomach, the oxygen drawn in by the lungs, must now be transported through the body's canals and made to saturate its every cell.
Therein lies the spiritual significance of Miriam's role as Israel's provider of "water." Miriam first appears in the Torah (see Midrashim and commentaries on Shemos 1:15) as a children's nurse: one who distills adult food for the consumption of a child; one who trains and educates a growing human being, filtering the stimuli of an adult world for his maturing mind; who processes the raw materials of life to meet the specific needs of her charge's age and phase of development.
Miriam's Well is the vital fluid of Israel's spiritual life, the water that inculcates them with the knowledge and identity her brothers provide. The waters of Miriam transport and apply the nutrients of Torah and the abstractions of faith to each individual, on his or her particular level.
-- The Lubavitcher Rebbe
Excerpted from: Three Dimensions of Torah, by Yitschak Meir Kagan
The Well of Miriam was a source of water -- which does not, in itself, nourish the body. The principal function of water is to act as a medium to carry food to all parts of the body. …there is that aspect of Torah that carries both the "external protection" and the "nourishment" to all Jews -- like the water of Miriam's Well.
Water of Miriam's Well in Torah
Water has the essential characteristic that it descends from high places to low places. The Torah, too, descends from the heights of lofty, Divine, profound wisdom to become clothed in the actual letters and words of the Written Torah and Oral Torah, thereby becoming available to everyone.
Miriam had two merits connected specifically with water, and there are differing opinions for which merit the Well was bequeathed: watching over Moshe’s rush basket in the Nile in his infancy (Zohar III 103a) and exuberant praise after the Splitting of the Sea on the banks of the Reed Sea. (Bamidbar Rabba 1:2) Indeed, it was entirely to Miriam's credit that the Jews continued to procreate in Egypt in spite of Pharaoh's decrees and she even helped to keep the babies alive and supplied them with food (Shemos. 1:17; see also Sotah 11b). Therefore, water - the most crucial of these needs - was in her merit. (Anaf Yosef)


2. Cleansing
from Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh:
The Well of Miriam was for drinking and also for washing clothing. Water serves two purposes. One is for drinking, when it becomes part of the person's life force. The second purpose is for cleansing the body and clothing. The skin itself is also clothing of the inner dimensions of the body. The fact that water is necessary for washing, is the way to meditate on the Chotam Hamithapech. The water of the Well of Miriam, in addition to being used for drinking, comes to wash the clothing of the Jewish People.
3. Defeating Our Enemies
From Azamra website
… throughout the forty years of wandering, a miraculous Well accompanied the Israelites in the merit of Miriam. The history of Miriam's Well is not written explicitly in the Torah text but only allusively. The allusions are brought out in the Aramaic Targum and in Midrashim brought by Rashi on certain verses in our parsha -- such as Bamidbar 20:10-11 and 21:15ff. This Well of the waters of inspiration accompanied the Israelites on all their journeys in the wilderness and provided water for the camp at each of their stopping places. When Miriam died, it disappeared, but it returned in the merit of Moshe and traveled with the Israelites on the last stages of their journey through the wilderness.
…The parsha relates that the miracles of the crossing of the Arnon were comparable with the miracles of the crossing of the Reed Sea (Bamidbar 21:14ff.). The Emorites were waiting for the Israelites in caves in the gorge below, but the two sides of the gorge miraculously came together, allowing the Israelites to walk safely above. The Well of Miriam, which traveled with the Israelites, flushed the blood of the dead Emorites out of the gorge so that the Israelites could see the miracles performed for them.
Thus, forty years after the Generation of the Exodus had sung to G-d when they came up from the Reed Sea, the Generation of the Conquest sang again as they witnessed the first miracles of the conquest. "That was the Well of which Hashem said to Moshe, gather the people and I will give them water. Then Israel sang (lit. WILL SING) this song: Arise, O Well.!" (Bamidbar 21:16-17).
When they entered the Land under Yehoshua (on 10 Nissan, anniversary of the death of Miriam), the Well also entered the land. It traveled to the Kinneret (Sea of Gallilee), where it is said to be visible from mountains to the east as a kind of "sieve" on the surface of the sea. From the depths of the Kinneret, the Well is said to feed the waters of Israel's most important water reserve. The conquest of the Land depends upon Miriam's Well -- the Well of Torah insight and inspiration.
4. Boundaries
In addition, the Me'am Loez explains that the "Well of Miriam" was more to the Israelites than just their source of water. When the leading clouds came to a stop it indicated to the nation that they should make camp. The arrangement of the camp as detailed in the beginning of the Book of Bamidbar was deliberate and divine, and directed initially by the Well, which would move to the very center of the camp, marking the position of the Tabernacle. The Well then overflowed and created a canal system that delineated the placement and boundaries of each tribe within the desert encampment.
The Tosefta describes it: "... like a rock full of holes, trickled and rose like the water of this small jug, it ascended mountains with them and descended to the valleys with them....the princes of Israel surrounded it with their staffs and recited over it the song "Rise up Well and answer her, rise up Well and answer her" (see Bamidbar 21:17), and it bubbled and rose upwards like a pillar". (Sukka 3:11)
from Rabbi’s Notebook, Parshas Chukas 5762, by R. Aron Tendler
With Miriam's death, the nation's source of water ended... The Meam Loez explains that the "Well of Miriam" was much more than their source of water. When the leading clouds came to a stop it indicated to the nation that they should make camp. The arrangement of the camp as detailed in the beginning of Bamidbar was deliberate and divine. The Midrash says that the Well of Miriam would move to the very center of the camp, marking the position of the Mishkan. It then overflowed and created a canal system that delineated the placement and boundaries of each Tribe within the desert encampment.
… [As the Jews prepared to cross the Jordan to go into Eretz Yisrael], along with the division of labor between the tribes would come an increased sense of independence from G-d. It would take greater sophistication and sensitivity to see the constancy of G-d's loving concern as not being any different than when it was in the desert. Therefore, the delineated differences between the tribes highlighted by the miracle of Miriam's Well, was of greater symbolic significance than ever before. Yet, Miriam died and the Well ceased to provide water. The individual tribes were left alone to consider their own placement, divisions, and responsibilities.
5. Until Today
The Well did not abandon the nation of Israel even after their entrance to the Land of Israel, as opposed to the Manna and the Clouds of Glory; in fact, it continues to contribute from its wondrous powers until this day. When they entered the Land under Yehoshua (on 10 Nissan, the anniversary of Miriam's death), the Well also entered the Land, where it became hidden.
The Ari is said to have taken Rabbi Chaim Vital on a boat in the Sea of Galilee and given him a cup of this water to drink, after which Rabbi Chaim Vital was finally able to understand the teachings of his master.
The full story, again from Kabbala Online:
Rabbi Chaim Vital describes his initiation into the Arizal's new approach to Kabbalah as follows: "When I [first] came to my teacher of saintly memory [the Arizal] to study this wisdom under him, he was about to leave for Tiveria. He took me with him. We boarded a boat, and as we were sailing [across the Kinneret] at a point opposite the arches of the Old Synagogue of Tiveria, my teacher dipped a cup into the water and gave it to me to drink. He told me that now I would be able to grasp this wisdom [the teachings of Kabbalah] for I had just drunk water from the Well of Miriam [which is buried in the Kinneret]. From that time on I began to enter the depth of this wisdom."
6. Medicinal Effects
According to one source, the Well sank into the Sea of Galilee: "It happened that someone who suffered from boils went down to immerse in the waters in Tiveria; it was an opportune time, and he saw Miriam's Well and washed in it and was healed". (Vayikra Rabba, 25:5). These healing effects are also mentioned [Hebrew link] in the Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Chukas.
Even in our day and age, "some have a tradition to draw water [from a well] Saturday night because Miriam's Well supplies all the wells each Saturday night, and one who does so and drinks will be cured of illness" (Kol Bo, Orach Chaim, 299:10).
Indeed, Miriam's Well is said to feed the waters of Israel's most important water reserve nowadays, the Kinneret [Sea of Galilee], while hidden in its depths.

Of course, we now [once again] know its exact location…

Fantastic post, so important!
In case you wanted more sources/discussion, The Zohar in Chayei Sarah discusses how the water would rise up for Rivkah when she came to draw water from the well---the Zohar says this is because it is the Well of Miriam.
Hey Yitz,

It's my first time here, and it's a great blog.
The last post was one of the longest I've ever seen but interesting.

Keep the good work,


I think you are missing the point of the story. If miriams well is in tiberia then it must be kadesh where miriam was buried. Therefore if kadesh is the kineret jerusalem must be north of this point. Most probably tzfat. And shechem is most certainly mount meron. The two peaks of meron are gerizim and ebal and bet el is found above the shammai tomb. Modern day jerusalem is actually egypt
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