This week’s Torah Portion marks the passing of Miriam, the first of that remarkable family of leaders who brought us forth out of Egypt. But consider this simple lesson in the numbers of Numbers: Moses is mentioned 766 times in the Torah, Aaron’s name is mentioned 347 times, and Miriam is mentioned by name 12 times. In sum, one generation of one family of Israelites is mentioned in the Torah 1125 times and Miriam represents only 12.
What does that teach us? Well, it teaches us that the words of women are undercounted in the Torah, and yet it also teaches us that Miriam mattered. Miriam is remembered as the first woman to be called a prophet in Israel. Miriam who protected Moses as a child, who led the women in Song as we crossed the Red Sea, who found water for our thirst during our wanderings through the desert, Miriam who is mentioned just 12 times in the Torah is remembered by millions still today. May we all be worthy of such a memory.
The laws of the red heifer to purify a person who has had contact with a corpse are given. (19:1-22)
The people arrive at the wilderness of Zin. Miriam dies and is buried there. (20:1)
The people complain that they have no water. Moses strikes the rock to get water for them. God tells Moses and Aaron they will not enter the Land of Israel. (20:2-13)
The king of Edom refuses to let the Children of Israel pass through his land. After Aaron’s priestly garments are given to his son Eleazer, Aaron dies. (20:14-29)
After they are punished for complaining about the lack of bread and water, the Israelites repent and are victorious in battle against the Amorites and the people of Bashan, whose lands they capture. (21:4-22:1)