Parashat Hukat: Singing for the Torah
We read in Parashat Hukat of the song which Beneh Yisrael sung for the miraculous well which G-d provided for them throughout the years in the desert so they would have fresh drinking water (21:17-20). Earlier, the Torah relates that after Miriam passed away, the nation suddenly found itself without water (20:1-2), and the Gemara (Ta’anit 9a) explains that the well had been provided in the merit of Miriam, such that after her passing, the people no longer had water. Nevertheless, in the merit of Moshe, it was restored.
The Or Ha’hayim Ha’kadosh (Rav Haim Ben-Attar, 1696-1743) raises the question of why Beneh Yisrael sang a special song for this miracle, but not for the other two miracles which were performed for them throughout their years in the desert – the manna, and the "clouds of glory." They needed the manna for food, and they needed the clouds for protection from hostile enemies, wild animals, and the elements – just as they needed the well for water. Why, then, did they sing a special song for the well, but not for the manna or the clouds?
The Or Ha’hayim explains that in truth, this song is not about the well – but rather about Torah, which is compared to water. Just as water is vital for physical subsistence, Torah is vital for spiritual subsistence. Beneh Yisrael failed to sing a song of joy and praise at the time of Matan Torah, but they did so now, forty years later.
The Or Ha’hayim does not explain why this song was sung specifically now. What caused Beneh Yisrael to suddenly erupt in joyous singing over the precious gift of the Torah?
Rav Haim Vital (1542-1620), the closest and most famous disciple of the Arizal (Rav Yishak Luria, 1534-1572), relates that the first day he spent learning from the Arizal, he was taught so much profound information that he could not retain it all. When they met the next day, he asked the Arizal if he could briefly review what they had learned the previous day, because he could not remember all the material. The Arizal brought his student into the Kinneret Lake, took some water, and gave it to Rav Haim Vital to drink. He explained that the Kinneret contains water from the "Be’erah Shel Miriam," the special well which accompanied Beneh Yisrael in the desert in Miriam’s merit. This water has special powers, enabling those who drink it to absorb and retain Torah knowledge. In fact, this is how Beneh Yisrael were able to learn and commit to memory the entire Torah which they learned from Moshe in the wilderness – because the water they drank was from this miraculous well, which impacted their souls such that they could assimilate and remember Torah.
When Miriam died and the well was taken away, Beneh Yisrael lost this special power. They were no longer able to properly study Torah and retain Torah knowledge. Thus, when the well was restored in Moshe’s merit, they had a renewed appreciation for Torah. The period when their special capabilities were taken away reminded them of how precious and valuable Torah knowledge is. They longed to once again have the ability to study, understand, and recall the sacred words of the Torah. And so when this ability was restored, they joyously sang and gave praise to Hashem for this special gift.
May we always live with an appreciation for the inestimable value of Torah, and cherish and seize every opportunity we have to learn and absorb its holy words.