IN A REMARKABLE passage in the Talmud we are told, "He who wants to see the well of Miriam should go up to the top of Mount Carmel and he will see the likes of a sieve in the sea; and that is the well of Miriam" (Sab. 38a).

The obvious question that poses itself is what is this text trying to say? To provide a plausible explanation one has to analyze what the well of Miriam meant to our people during the forty years of wandenng in the desert. We know that it provided our ancestors with pure and refreshing water. The Talmud and Midrash, however, stress that the well of Miriam was a source of spiritual and moral strength for the people as they wended their weary way toward the Land of Promise. It reminded them of the indomitable faith in Cod that was exhibited by Miriam during one of the most crucial and dangerous moments in the history of her people. When the oppression of Israel was almost unendurable and when the edict of Pharaoh was to drown all new-born males in the Nile, Amram, the father of Miriam, separated himself from his wife. The other men followed his example and left their respective spouses. What was the point of begetting children if their destiny was a watery grave? "Then Miriam said to her father, 'your decree is more stringent than Pharaoh's, for Pharaoh's decree is directed only against our male children, but yours is also against the females. Pharaoh is a wicked man and there is reason to doubt whether his edict will be effective or not, but you are a rightous man and your edict will surely be effective.' Thereupon he (Amram) returned to his wife, and so did the others" (Exod. Ral. 1).

Thus Miriam taught the message of total and uncompromising reliance on God even in the face of seeming hopelessness. Her great act of faith saved her people from self-destruction in Egypt. Generations later the same trait was discerned in the prophet Elijah. When there was the danger of spiritual disintegration of his people by the worship of Baal, Elijah challenged Israel with the cry--ad motai atem potehim al shtei haseifim "How long will you hold between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; and if Baal, follow him" (I Kings 18:21). He confronted the false prophets and priests of Baal with a test that required absolute faith in the Torah and God. He gambled everything on Mount Carmel, and won a great victory for the religion and soul of Israel. Our text states that it was the well of Miriam that inspired Elijah to build an altar to God on Mount Carmel and bring about the utter defeat of idolatry and immorality in his day.

This trait of stubborn determination has enabled our people through the centuries, to survive pograms, inquisitions and holocausts. The well of living waters of courage and emunah have nourished us and enabled us to live in the face of stupendous obstacles and nefarious designs on our lives by powerful enemies. In the face of the great losses that we are sustaining these days because of the gigantic waves of assimilation that are working havoc and endangering the physical and spiritual survival of Jewry; when thousands of families are half-Jewish and half non-Jewish, and many others don't know who and what they are, our only hope is that the spirit of beerah shel Miriam and of Elijah on Mount Carmel will stem the deadly tide and assure netzach Yisrael - the eternity of Israel.

The last prophet of the Bible informs us that it will be Elijah who will be the harbinger of the golden era of salvation and peace that will be ushered in with the advent of the Messiah. "Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of God. And he will restore the heart of the fathers to their children, and the heart of the children to their fathers . . ." (Alalachi 3:2324).

This is our task today: to help Elijah and the Messiah bring that miracle to pass soon.

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