Two of our three ‘good leaders’ (parnasim tovim; gemarra Ta’anis 9a) in the desert die in our sedra; Miriam and Aharon. Most know of Aharon’s greatness - he was the kohen gadol, the spokesperson for Moshe to Pharoah, he stopped the mass plague in parshas Korach, and it was in his merit that Bnei Yisrael were surrounded by the ananei hakavod (‘clouds of glory’) which protected us in the desert (gemarra Ta’anis 9a). Miriam also reached a high level of greatness; aside from being a prophetess in her own right, she played a major part of Yetzias Mitzrayim; it was Miriam who convinced her father - the gadol hador - to remarry Yocheved which resulted in Moshe’s birth in Egypt (gemarra Sotah 12a), and she watched Moshe when he was cast into the Nile. Moreover, she merited to lead the women of Bnei Yisrael in song after the splitting of the Yam Suf, and the well of water that travelled with Bnei Yisrael in the desert was in her merit - and though it returned after she died in the merit of Aharon and Moshe, HaShem took it away temporarily after Miriam died to show Bnei Yisrael that it was in Miriam’s merit that they were given the well in the first place (Maharsha Ta’anis 9a). In short, I am not saying anything new - Miriam and Aharon were great people and were thus two of our three ‘good leaders’ in the desert.
The question we shall focus on concerns a major difference between the deaths of Moshe and Aharon with that of Miriam. When Aharon (this week’s sedra) and Moshe (at the end of the Torah) die, we are told that Bnei Yisrael cried over their deaths for thirty days (Bamidbar 20;29 & Devarim 34;8). However, when Miriam dies there is no mention of any crying whatsoever. In fact, Rav Zalman Sorotzkin explains that the pasuk immediately following Miriam’s death that ‘…there was no water for the congregation’ (20;2) hints at the fact that not only was there no water to drink (the well vanished at Miriam’s death), but there was also no water in the eyes of Bnei Yisrael; there was no shedding of tears. Why did they not cry at Miriam’s death just like they did at the death of the other two parnasim?
Rav Sorotzkin (1881-1966) himself gives an answer to the question in his sefer ‘Oznayim LaTorah.’ He says that it is difficult/unnecessary to cry over the passing of someone who has died old beyond an expected life-span and has reached a spiritually lofty level and a fulfilled spiritual life. Consequently, there should not have been any crying at any of the deaths of Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam. But there was crying at the death of Aharon, because of the suddenness and unexpectedness of his death [Rashi 20;29 says that Bnei Yisrael did not initially believe Moshe when he told them that Aharon had died], whilst the crying at Moshe’s death was due to the fact that nobody knew where Moshe was buried and thus they could not daven at his kever nor say any real farewell. This, he explains, is why the Torah uniquely reports regarding Miriam’s death that ‘and she died there…and was buried there’ (20;1), whilst when Aharon and Moshe die the Torah only says ‘and he died there’ (Bamidbar 20;28 & Devarim 34;5) - but it does not use the phrashe ‘and he was buried there.’ Why? The reason, says Rav Sorotzkin, is the above point in that Miriam’s death was expected and the place where she was buried was known, whilst Moshe and Aharon’s deaths were not ones of ‘he died there and was buried there,’ because Aharon’s death was unexpected and Moshe’s place of burial was unknown - in fact, the gemarra (Sotah 14a) says that even Moshe himself did not know where he was buried.
It should be added that it is possible that Rav Sorotzkin’s principal of not crying over such a death is specific to such a generation as the generation of the desert, whose sensitivity to spirituality was unbounded, and thus would focus on the spiritual achievements of the deceased over the physical loss of life - though Rav Sorotzkin does not write this explicitly himself.
However, one may ask a couple of questions on the above approach [with the appropriate respect, of course]. Firstly, it is a bit unclear whether Rav Sorotzkin means that it is difficult to cry over the death of an old, spiritually-fulfilled person, or that it is unnecessary to cry in such a situation. [I must admit that when I read it, it seemed that he was saying that it is difficult, whilst when I heard Rabbi Frand repeating the above answer, he quoted that it was unnecessary to cry.] Either way there are questions to be asked; principally from the gemarra Shabbes (153a). The gemarra there says that ‘from someone’s hesped [after their death] one can recognise whether the deceased is one who belongs firmly in Olam Haba,’ which Rashi explains to be referring to that if people cry over the death, it is a sign that the deceased is a member of the ‘Olam Haba club,’ so to speak. And the gemarra continues that Rav [the great Amora who is even likened to a Tanna] asked of Rav Shmuel bar Shilas to ‘warm up the crowd’ and make an extra effort to infuse the crowd with emotion at his hesped so that they would cry. We see from this gemarra that it is necessary and worthwhile to cry for the loss of great, spiritual figures, but we also see that it does not seem too difficult a job to get people to cry over such a loss. Moreover, recent hespedim of leading spiritual figures have indeed brought open crying and tears; I personally remember that of Rav Shmuel Birnbaum z’tl earlier this year, and the tear-filled hespeidim given outside Mir Yeshiva.
Thus, perhaps we can suggest an alternative answer to the question; it is really two answers but we shall merge them into one. It is based upon a principal that is evident and is not a majorly innovative revelation; it is an accurate and perceptive observation about the world in which we live. [It can be found in Messilas Yesharim chapters one and five, and probably in many other sefarim too.]
The principal is that we have been put into a physical world which is a test for us. We are certainly part of the physical world and have physical needs and wants; some of which are basic necessities like food, water, shelter, etc. However, we are also very much attracted by the physical world, and can end up becoming trapped inside it - the Hebrew word for nature (hateva) is the gematria of Elokim, but also comes from the root ‘to drown’ (litvo’a), for one can either use the physical world as a means of getting close to HaShem, or can spiritually drown within it. One of the main tests is that drive for physical materialistic comforts can blur one’s focus on their goals in life, and people can be caught up in the endless chase to achieve their physical cravings (mostly money) without paying any attention to real priorities and what is important in life. Based on this, perhaps one can suggest that the reason that Bnei Yisrael did not cry at Miriam’s death was because they were too preoccupied with the imminent lack of water after Miriam’s well disappeared immediately after her death; the very next pasuk they complain about the lack of water (20;2). It was this overemphasis on physical and material needs [albeit important physical needs; one needs water in the desert] over and above any spiritual reaction to the death of Miriam that meant that the Bnei Yisrael did now cry.
When Aharon died, the Bnei Yisrael did not focus on the lack of clouds of glory, and there was not a focus on the triple loss of the manna, well, and clouds of glory when Moshe died, because Bnei Yisrael had learnt there lesson from the death of Miriam, and had rebalanced their focus firmly on the spiritual side. Additionally, there is another reason to add to this why Bnei Yisrael were crying specifically at the deaths of Moshe and Aharon; the reason that Moshe and Aharon died early in the desert as opposed to leading Bnei Yisrael into the Land of Israel was due to what occurred after Bnei Yisrael demanded water after Miriam’s death. Thus, the deaths of Moshe and Aharon had an extra shade of darkness, tragedy, and tears, in that Bnei Yisrael shared responsibility for their early deaths.
The main idea here is the focus on [spiritual] priorities in life and not to get too caught up in the physical world we live in to the extent that one becomes too influenced by it and ultimately drowns within it. The point is epitomised by an Israeli television channel broadcasting the results of a terrorist attack, but doing so only on half a screen - the other half continued showing a national football match. Herein lies a classic loss of focus on priorities. We’ll end with a favourite [albeit shortened] parable of mine of the Chofetz Chaim. A poor man heard that a certain town far away had streets paved with gold, and so saved up money to buy a boat-trip to reach this town; promising his wife and family that he would return in a few months with wealth beyond imagination as he brought home gold. After arriving safely, sure enough he realised that the streets were indeed paved with gold, and took the opportunity to dine at the most expensive restaurant in the town - sure that he would pay with the gold from the pavements. When the time came to pay, he was told that in this town the currency is not gold [why would it be?] but rather it was fish; and so he had to work off his bill washing dishes for a few days. While there, he realised that he had to make a living somehow (if gold did not do the trick), and so opened up a restaurant himself and made plenty of fish [as money, of course, not to serve with chips]. However, after some time, his boat was due to set sail for home in a couple of weeks, and he had forgotten about his promise to grab some gold and bring it home; ‘I’ll do it later,’ he said, ‘there’s plenty of time still.’ But he continued to forget and it was only as he was running onto the boat that he managed to scrape off one small bit of gold. So, he travelled onto the boat home with much fish and a lump of gold. In fact, on the way home the fish protracted such an awful smell that they were flung overboard. Now, as the boat docked back in his home town, he only had one bit of gold to show for his efforts.
The idea, said the Chofetz Chaim, is that we are put in this world for a short time in order to go for the gold - the mitzvos - but become distracted when we go for too much money (fish). The idea is to realise this and realign one’s priorities to avoid the last-minute dash for gold that the person in our story undertook.
Have a great Shabbes!

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