Miriam’s Well (Be’erah shel Miriam) is the name of the spring that miraculously provided water and accompanied the Israelites throughout the 40 years they traveled in the wilderness.

Why is the well called by Miriam’s name? And what happened to Miriam’s Well after the Jews entered the land of Israel?

Miriam’s Merit

Toward the end of the Israelites’ sojourn in the desert, the verse tells us, “The entire congregation of the children of Israel arrived at the desert of Zin in the first month, and the people settled in Kadesh. Miriam died there and was buried there.The congregation had no water; so they assembled against Moses and Aaron.”1

From the juxtaposition of Miriam’s death and the water shortage, the sages of Talmud understand that for all the previous 40 years, they did have a ready water source and that it was in Miriam’s merit.2

In fact, the Talmud explains that the three “gifts” the Jews had in the desert—the well of water, the pillar of clouds and the manna—were in the merit of Miriam, Aaron and Moses, respectively.3

What is the connection between Miriam and water?

The Zohar explains that Miriam stood by the waters of the Nile River and watched over her baby brother Moses to ensure he would be safe.4 The Midrash connects the well to Miriam’s exuberant praise after the Splitting of the Sea. Since she was so grateful for a miracle that occurred through water, G‑d rewarded her with water—for which the Jewish people sang even more praise.5

Origins of Miriam’s Well

Although the well produced the water in Miriam’s merit, the Mishnah lists it among the ten unique things created at twilight on the eve of the first Shabbat after creation.6

According to the Midrash, the “well” was actually a rock shaped like a sieve. It would roll with them throughout their travels, and when they stopped, the rock would dig deep into the sand. The leaders of the tribes would come and stand by it, saying: “Rise up, O well,” and it would rise.7 Some commentators explain that the rock itself didn’t actually roll with them; rather, the stream of water that originated from the rock would spring up in their new location.8

It was from this rock that Moses first brought forth water when the Jewish people complained about their lack of water (in Exodus), and it is the same rock that, after Miriam died, Moses hit in order to draw forth water once again (in Numbers).

Song of the Well

In the verses recounting the travels of the Jewish people, we find a rather cryptic incident:

And the spilling of the streams that turned to settle at Ar and leaned toward the border of Moab. From there to the well; that is the well of which the L‑rd said to Moses, “Gather the people, and I will give them water.”

Then Israel sang this song:

“Ascend, O well, sing to it!A well dug by princes, carved out by nobles of the people, through the lawgiver with their staffs, and from the desert, a gift.
From the gift, to the streams, and from the streams to the heights.
From the heights to the valley in the field of Moab, at the top of the peak, that overlooks the wastelands."9

The sages explain that the well in this song is Miriam’s well, and the song was sung on account of a miracle that happened with the well.

The Amorites, knowing that the Jewish people would have to pass through the valley, assembled a great army. Some of them hid in the many caves on the slopes of the mountain, while another group awaited the Jewish people in the valley below, hoping to ambush them unexpectedly from above and from below when they passed through the valley.

G‑d, however, arranged that the people did not go down into the valley at all, but stayed above. He then commanded the mountains on both sides of the valley to come together, and the protrusions of one mountain pressed into the caves of the other, crushing all the Amorites hidden inside.

Then, the well water flowed down through the valley and, becoming stronger in force, destroyed all the people that were there, like the Egyptians who were destroyed by the sea. In fact, the Torah compares these two events when recounting G‑d’s mighty deeds on behalf of the Jewish people.10

Since the Jewish people had passed over the mountains, they were not aware of all these miracles, so G‑d said, “I'm going to make it known how many people I destroyed for them!” Thus, He sent the well water into the caves to wash out all the limbs. When the Jewish people saw the well flowing with body parts, they realized the great miracle G‑d had performed for them, and they burst out in song.11

What Happened to Miriam’s Well?

Tiberias sits off the pebbly beaches of the Kinneret Sea.
Tiberias sits off the pebbly beaches of the Kinneret Sea.

According to one tradition in the Talmud, once Moses passed away, the well (together with the Clouds of Glory and the manna) “disappeared.”12 Elsewhere, the Talmud tells us that “one who wants to see Miriam’s well, which accompanied the Jewish people throughout their sojourn in the desert, should do the following: He should climb to the top of Mount Carmel and look out [at the Mediterranean Sea], and he will see a rock that looks like a sieve in the sea, and that is Miriam’s Well.”13

However, other sources place Miriam’s Well in the Sea of Galilee (also known as the Kinneret or the Sea of Tiberias). In the words of the Midrash:

There was once a man with a skin disease who went down to immerse himself in the Sea of Tiberias. The Well of Miriam appeared to him and he was healed. Where can it found? Rabbi Chiya bar Abba said: “It is written, ‘And it looks on the face of the Yeshimon (lit. “wilderness”).’14 For anyone who goes up to the mountain Yeshimon, he will see something like a small sieve in the Sea of Tiberias, and that is the Well of Miriam.”15

Rabbi Chaim Vital, the main disciple of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, the Arizal, gives a more exact location for Miriam’s Well: “As you walk along the shore of the Sea of Tiberias towards the hot springs of Tiberias, at the exact midway point, in a place where there are many palm trees on the sea shore, parallel to the tower that is atop the mountain, that is where the Well of Miriam is.”16

Drinking From the Well After Shabbat

There is an ancient custom to draw and drink water from a well or natural spring after Shabbat. This is based on the saying of the sages that the waters of Miriam’s Well flow through all the wells and natural springs every Saturday night, and “anyone who encounters it and drinks of its waters will be immediately healed from all his afflictions. Therefore, they are accustomed to draw water every Saturday night, since perhaps they will chance upon the well of Miriam.”17

Although we discussed the well specifically as being in Miriam’s merit, in truth, our sages tells us that the entire Exodus was in the merit of the righteous women, led by Miriam. And the final redemption will likewise be in the merit of the righteous women—may it be speedily in our days!