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In Parshas Chukas we are told that following Miriam's death, the be'er, the water source for the Bnei Yisroel, dried up.

It writes in 20:1-2:

וַיָּבֹ֣אוּ בְנֵֽי־יִ֠שְׂרָאֵ֠ל כׇּל־הָ֨עֵדָ֤ה מִדְבַּר־צִן֙ בַּחֹ֣דֶשׁ הָֽרִאשׁ֔וֹן וַיֵּ֥שֶׁב הָעָ֖ם בְּקָדֵ֑שׁ וַתָּ֤מׇת שָׁם֙ מִרְיָ֔ם וַתִּקָּבֵ֖ר שָֽׁם׃ וְלֹא־הָ֥יָה מַ֖יִם לָעֵדָ֑ה וַיִּקָּ֣הֲל֔וּ עַל־מֹשֶׁ֖ה וְעַֽל־אַהֲרֹֽן

The Children of Israel, all the congregation came to the wilderness of Zin on the first month, and the people stayed at Kadesh. Miriam died there and was buried there. The congregation was without water, and they joined against Moses and Aaron.

This reminded me of the Gemara in Taanis 9a which famously relates:

מֵיתִיבִי, רַבִּי יוֹסֵי בְּרַבִּי יְהוּדָה אוֹמֵר: שְׁלֹשָׁה פַּרְנָסִים טוֹבִים עָמְדוּ לְיִשְׂרָאֵל, אֵלּוּ הֵן: מֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן וּמִרְיָם. וְשָׁלֹשׁ מַתָּנוֹת טוֹבוֹת נִיתְּנוּ עַל יָדָם, וְאֵלּוּ הֵן: בְּאֵר, וְעָנָן, וּמָן. בְּאֵר — בִּזְכוּת מִרְיָם, עַמּוּד עָנָן — בִּזְכוּת אַהֲרֹן, מָן — בִּזְכוּת מֹשֶׁה. מֵתָה מִרְיָם — נִסְתַּלֵּק הַבְּאֵר, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״וַתָּמׇת שָׁם מִרְיָם״, וּכְתִיב בָּתְרֵיהּ: ״וְלֹא הָיָה מַיִם לָעֵדָה״, וְחָזְרָה בִּזְכוּת שְׁנֵיהֶן.

The Gemara raises an objection from a baraisa: Rabbi Yosei, son of Rabbi Yehuda, says: Three good sustainers rose up for the Jewish people during the exodus from Egypt, and they are: Moshe, Aharon and Miriam. And three good gifts were given from Heaven through their agency, and these are they: The well of water, the pillar of cloud, and the manna. He elaborates: The well was given to the Jewish people in the merit of Miriam; the pillar of cloud was in the merit of Aaron; and the manna in the merit of Moses. When Miriam died the well disappeared, as it is stated: “And Miriam died there” (Numbers 20:1), and it says thereafter in the next verse: “And there was no water for the congregation” (Numbers 20:2). But the well returned in the merit of both Moses and Aaron. (Sefaria translation and additional notation)

However, how do we understand the zechus Miriam (or Moshe and Aharon's for that matter), in light of another Gemara in Bava Metzia 86b which notes that since Avraham attended to the needs of the visiting angels, the Bnei Yisroel merited these three things in the desert:

וכן תנא דבי רבי ישמעאל בשכר שלשה זכו לשלשה בשכר חמאה וחלב זכו למן בשכר והוא עומד עליהם זכו לעמוד הענן בשכר יוקח נא מעט מים זכו לבארה של מרים

And likewise the school of Rabbi Yishmael taught: In reward for three (acts of hospitality that Aהraham performed for the angels), his descendants merited three rewards. In reward for providing them with curd and milk, the Jewish people merited the mann; in reward for: “And he stood [omed] by them,” the Jews merited the pillar [amud] of cloud; in reward for Abraham saying: “Let now a little water be fetched,” they merited the well of Miriam.

Do we understand it that Avraham ensured the initial merit, and then Moshe, Aharon and Miriam were the ones whose merit brought it into actuality or is there another mechanism in place?

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    Interesting how in the second source tho the well is still called the well of Miriam Jul 2 at 4:55
  • Yes I noticed that as well @CuriousYid
    – Dov
    Jul 2 at 7:58

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The sefer Zera Shimshon answers that because of Avraham, the Jews only would have merited those three things for a short while, but because of the three leaders, they merited them for the entire 40 years.

His source for this idea is Rashi who says

ולא היה מים לעדה. מִכָּאן שֶׁכָּל אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה הָיָה לָהֶם הַבְּאֵר בִּזְכוּת מִרְיָם

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    Beautiful diyuk in rashi.
    – אילפא
    Jul 2 at 10:53
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This article by "Parsha Ponders" (Shoftim 5777) has the same observation as you did. The article offers an explanation:

Even massive trees come from the tiniest of seeds. However, those seeds by themselves can’t cause the tree to sprout forth. There also needs to be earth, water, sunshine, etc. This is exactly the principle at work here which resolves this apparent contradiction. The seed, the root of the three gifts from Hashem, was from the acts of chesed of Avraham. However, this seed of potential still needed something to give it the power to sprout forth into reality. This power was provided by the merits of Moshe, Aharon and Miriam.

We find that this principle occurs in many places [7]. In addition to finding it on the side of good, it also exists on the side of bad. A small act of bad could create a “seed” which lies dormant until another act gives it the power to sprout forth[8].

So, according to this. Yes, Avraham started the merit. He "planted the seed" so to speak. But, as the Gemara you've quoted says " And three good gifts were given from Heaven through their agency"- this was the power of Moshe, Aharon and Miriam to sprout forth what was planted by Avraham Avinu (see Maharsha on Bava Metzia 86b).

The Maharsha (cited above, Bava Metzia 86b) explains that the merit of Avraham would have provided the Jewish people only with a momentary miracle of the manna, clouds of glory, and the well of Miriam. However, it was through the merits of Moshe, Aharon and Miriam that these momentary miracles which were facilitated through Avraham's acts of kindness, would endure much longer (see also the Ben Yehoyada, ad loc.).

Rabbi Mordecai Kornfeld from Kollel Iyun Hadaf Yerushalayim cites Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz in his Sichos Musas (5732, #8). Rav Shmuelevitz begins his explanation of these contradicitions with a parable

A small seed is able to sprout into a huge tree. However, the seed itself cannot sprout without external factors contributing to its growth, such as soil, water, and sunshine.

He then goes on to explain that when the three miracles were granted in the merit of Avraham, this means that:

the merit of the Chesed of Avraham was like the "seeds" of these gifts -- the initial reason for granting them. However, these "seeds" needed additional factors to cause them to sprout and come to fruition, and that purpose was served by the merit of Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam.

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    +1 for the Maharsha!
    – Dov
    Jul 2 at 7:13
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So after some searching I saw in a parsha sheet entitled Eilecha Weekly by Rabbi Yaakov Klein on Parshas Chukas an interesting take, at least about Avraham and Miriam.

Tehillim 114:8 writes:

הַהֹפְכִ֣י הַצּ֣וּר אֲגַם־מָ֑יִם חַ֝לָּמִ֗ישׁ לְמַעְיְנוֹ־מָֽיִם

Who turned the rock into a pool of water, the flinty rock into a fountain.

Rabbi Klein explains based on the Shem MiShmuel that there are two different merits and miracles at play.

The first step is הַהֹפְכִ֣י הַצּ֣וּר אֲגַם־מָ֑יִם - namely the hard exterior of the rock became soft, mushy and porous like a sponge, like the "mud of a swamp".

The second step is that the core of the rock became a spring of water - a מקור חיים, which was able to flow outward due to the soft exterior.

Accordingly, the Shem Mishmuel notes that the zechuyos (merits) of Avraham and Miriam corresponded to the attribute of the rock.

Avraham transformed the hard shell of the rock into something soft. Rabbi Klein writes:

He lightly urges his guests, "Please take some water", because he thought they were idol worshippers and wanted to purify them from avodah zara. The yetzer hara is referred to as "לב האבן" - "stoney heart", Avraham sought to soften them to remove the yetzer hara.

However, in the case of Miriam she turned the outside of the rock into a spring.

She had the חשק/desire to come forward at Yam Suf and she never abandoned hope. She stood by the Nile watching her baby brother float to a safer place because she anticipated that he would become the saviour of Bnei Yisrael. Miriam had an immense השתוקקות, ready to spring outward and gush forth.

Therefore when Miriam dies the be'er dries up. However, the outside remained soft (thanks to Avraham) but was missing the internal water source that came via Miriam.

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