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So, a few weeks ago I was looking up some sources on the death of Miriam in preparation for a D'var Torah, and came across a very brief commentary that she died "to teach that death is mysterious" (or words to that effect). Unfortunately I did not make a note of where I found it, and now I am unable to re-discover it. It does not seem to be at Why did Miriam die in the desert? or What do we learn from Miriam's demise being juxtaposed to the Red Heifer?, although the former does link to a torah.org commentary that makes essentially the same point -- but without any sources. I am 99% sure I encountered it in one of the meforshim, but I can't find it in Rashi or Ramban, which pretty much exhausts my textual skills. Can anybody help me track it down?

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  • What's mysterious in death? Myriads had died before.
    – Al Berko
    Jul 9, 2019 at 6:39
  • @AlBerko The phrase "mysteriousness of death" referred (as I understood it) to the fact that no one knows when they will die or why. Hence Miriam's death, unlike Moses's and Aaron's, is presented without any explanation of why she died without entering Eretz Yisrael.
    – mweiss
    Jul 9, 2019 at 13:49
  • A source for “that death is mysterious (i.e. a person’s death)” is Pes. 54b; though a source that “she died (Miriam) to teach that death is mysterious” I don’t know.
    – Oliver
    Jul 9, 2019 at 17:42

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Perhaps rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (ibid):

Nicht umsonst aber geht wohl diesem Kapitel, das so kurz und schmucklos den Tod der Geschwister Mirjam und Aharon enthält, das große פרה אדומה-Kapitel der jüdischen Unsterblichkeitslehre voran. Dieses Kapitel selbst ist eine große Einleitung zu diesen Toten und sagt: Was in Mirjam Mirjam, was in Aharon Aharon war, das ist mit ihrem Tode nicht gestorben, wie ihr Wirken hienieden in allen Folgegeschlechtern ihrer Nation unsterblich fortlebt, so ist ihr eigenstes Wesen selbst aus irdischer Vergänglichkeit zu Gott, dem Urquell alles Lebens in die Ewigkeit zurückgekehrt. Und wenn das Wort der Weisen (Mo'ed Katan 28a) lehrt: למה נסמכה מיתת מרים לפרשת פרה אדומה לומר לך מה פרה אדומה מכפרת אף מיתתן של צדיקים מכפרת, daß die Zusammenordnung dieser beiden Kapitel lehre, dem Tode der Gerechten wohnt eben eine solche sühnende Kraft inne, wie dem חטאת־פרה אדומה, so möchte dies wohl auch in diesem Sinne eine Wahrheit sein, daß, wie die פרה אדומה-Institution die Unsterblichkeit und damit die sittliche Freiheit des göttlichen Menschenwesens lehrt, so lehrt beides unmittelbar auch der Tod des Gerechten. Denn wahrlich, der muss geistig blind sein, dem das Sterben eines Gerechten nicht zur lautesten Unsterblichkeitspredigt wird, der in dem, was nun reglos und Verwesungsspuren tragend vor ihm liegt, das noch zu erblicken wagt, was noch soeben in so geistiger Kraft und in sittlich freier Macht Denken und Wollen betätigte, der in der Leiche des Gerechten etwas anderes erblicken kann, als den in den Winkel geworfenen Mantel eines von dannen geschiedenen Mannes.

Not for nothing is this chapter, which so briefly and unadornedly describes the death of the siblings Miriam and Aharon, preceded by the great פרה אדומה chapter of the Jewish doctrine of immortality. This chapter itself is a great introduction to these dead and says: What in Miriam was Miriam, what in Aharon was Aharon, that did not die with their death, as their work lives on immortally in all subsequent generations of their people, so their very being has returned from earthly transience to God, the original source of all life, into eternity. And as the word of the sages (Mo'ed Katan 28a) teaches: למה נסמכה מיתת מרים לפרשת פרה אדומה לומר לך מה פרה אדומה מכפרת אף מיתתן של צדיקים מכפרת, That the connection of these two chapters teaches that the death of the righteous has just such an atoning power inherent in it, as the חטאת-פרה אדומה, so that this may also be a truth in this sense, that Just as the פרה אדומה institution teaches the immortality and thus the moral freedom of the divine man, so the death of the righteous directly teaches both. For truly, he must be spiritually blind to whom the death of a righteous man does not become the loudest sermon of immortality, who still dares to see in what now lies motionless and bearing traces of decay before him that which just a moment ago actuated thought and will in such spiritual strength and in morally free power, than the coat of a deceased man tossed into the corner.

(My own translation)

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  • Thanks for the translation. Do you speak German? Very cool. I didn't understand the last sentence and Google translate thinks it should say "divorced man" not "dead man", which would make more sense. What do you think?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Oct 11, 2023 at 0:44
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    Yes I speak it out of necessity. Its not exactly cool... I updated the translation. Let me know if anything else is unclear. Gescheide means separate. So it can be understood differently depending on context. Here it means separated from life, i.e. dead.
    – Shababnik
    Oct 12, 2023 at 3:27

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