The Prophetess Miriam, sister of Moses, is closely associated with water. Like the life giving liquid, Miriam was fluid and able to shapeshift into whatever state was necessary. She defied Pharoah and saved her baby brother’s life by placing him in a basket and setting him into the Nile. After the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, Miriam led the women in song and dance to praise The Divine for her goodness.
Miriam was also practiced in divining for water. The biblical account states that a well followed Miriam throughout the forty years when the Israelites wandered in the Desert and that when she died, the well dried up and disappeared. In reality, Miriam dowsed for water along their travels. Unlike her brother Moses, Miriam was astute at using the rod to locate water necessary for survival in the Desert.
When she died, there was no one left who had the malleable character that defined Miriam’s life. But water is necessary for survival, and the Israelites needed it. The Divine told Moses to speak to a rock, but he struck it instead. This disobedience led to his death prior to entering the Promised Land.
What was so wrong with Moses’ action? The rock that The Divine instructed Moses to speak to was not just any rock. It was the rock that covered Miriam’s grave. Moses was instructed to speak to his sister’s spirit and honor her for all she had done. By doing so her powers of water dowsing would have transferred to him. In striking the rock, Moses showed his frustration at having to ask for his sister’s help yet again. His patriarchal outlook cost him his life. Even though Moses did not do as he had been instructed, water came forth from the rock anyway, His disobedience did not cause the rest of the nation to suffer, but led to his death.
Modern feminists often place a cup of water by the Seder plate at Passover. It is known as Miriam’s cup and honors the great water witch of our ancestry. With the cup of water we remember and honor Miriam for all she contributed to the liberation of our people.