In the Torah, we read about miracles connected to water five times. We will summarize each episode here in chronological order:
1. “They came to Marah, but they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; that is why it was named ‘Marah.’ And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, ‘What shall we drink?’ So, he cried out to God and God showed him a piece of wood; he threw it into the water and the water became sweet.” (Shemot 15:23-25)
2. “And they came to Eilim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees; and they encamped there beside the water. Setting out from Eilim, the whole Israelite community came to the wilderness of Zin… In the wilderness, the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron.” (Shemot 15:27-16:2)
3. “From the wilderness of Zin … They encamped at Rephidim, and there was no water for the people to drink… Then, God said to Moses, ‘Pass before the people; take with you some of the elders of Israel, and take along the rod with which you struck the Nile, and set out. I will be standing there before you on the rock at Chorev. Strike the rock and water will issue from it, and the people will drink.’ And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.” (Shemot 17:1-6)
4. “The Israelites arrived at the wilderness of Zin on the first new moon, and the people stayed at Kadesh. Miriam died there and was buried there. The community was without water, and they joined against Moses and Aaron. The people quarreled with Moses, saying, ‘If only we had perished when our brothers perished at the instance of God! Why have you brought God’s congregation into this wilderness for us and our beasts to die there? Why did you make us leave Egypt to bring us to this wretched place, a place with no grain or figs or vines or pomegranates? There is not even water to drink!’... And Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod. Out came copious water, and the community and their beasts drank.” (Bamidbar 20:1-11)
5. “Then Israel sang this song: ‘Spring up, O well—sing to it—the well which the chieftains dug, which the nobles of the people started, with maces, with their own staff. And from Midbar to Mattanah…’” (Bamidbar 21:17-18)
We see that in the first four water-related episodes the People of Israel complained, but in the fifth episode, they sang. What changed here? What was different about this episode?
By the time of the occurrence of the fifth episode, we see that the People of Israel’s status had changed—they were no longer just a people, but a fighting people, an army… and soldiers in צְבָא הֲגָנָה לְיִשְׂרָאֵל, the Israeli army, don’t complain.
But I’d like to also suggest another reason for why the People of Israel didn’t complain here:
In the first four episodes, God provided the people with water in miraculous ways, without any effort from them, entirely without their active involvement. But in the fifth episode, we suddenly see the People of Israel working for their water; They became active partners in the miracle of the well.
The Torah teaches us the following lesson. Often people complain when they’re not partners in an event, but when they feel involved in that event, not only do they not complain but even invest their very best efforts.
May we merit to always feel we’re partners in the service of God, active in repairing the world, and may God help us in our efforts.
Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon is head of Mizrachi’s Educational Advisory Board and Rabbinic Council. He serves as the rabbi of the Gush Etzion Regional Council, rosh yeshiva of the Jerusalem College of Technology and is the founder and chairman of Sulamot. He is a member of Mizrachi’s Speakers Bureau (www.mizrachi.org/speakers).