In the 20th chapter of Numbers, the Torah tells us of the death of Aaron, Moses' brother, in whose merit the miraculous clouds of glory used to accompany the Jews in their journey through the desert. When Aaron died the clouds disappeared, later reappearing in the merit of Moses.1 Two other outstanding miracles that accompanied the Israelites were the manna that fell daily, and the well of Miriam which supplied them with water.

What were the essential characteristics of the three miracles: the well, the manna and the clouds of glory?

The clouds of glory protected the people externally. They protected them from harsh winds, they exterminated the snakes and serpents that infested the wilderness, they smoothed out the mountains,2 and they cleaned and "pressed" the Israelites' clothes — as the Torah relates, "Your clothes did not wear out upon you."3 All of these are external functions.

The manna was a wonderful food in which one could experience any taste one desired. Food is something that is absorbed internally and provides nourishment and sustenance.

The well of miriam was a source of water — which does not, in itself, nourish the body. The principal function of water is to act as a medium to carry food to all parts of the body.

Three different aspects, or dimensions, of Torah are signified and paralleled by the clouds, the manna and the well. There is an aspect of Torah which is absorbed internally, like manna; there is an aspect that provides external protection, like the clouds of glory; and there is that aspect of Torah that carries both the "external protection" and the "nourishment" to all Jews — like the water of Miriam's well.

"Manna in Torah"

Torah comes from the Hebrew word hora'ah, teaching, signifying that Torah provides a code and guide for our conduct in life. This guidance must be thoroughly understood and absorbed, so that each person may know exactly how to guide his own conduct as well as that of his family and household. Just as the manna was presented in different ways to those of different spiritual levels — the righteous finding it ready to eat while others had to grind it, etc. — so is Torah "ingested" in different ways according to the absorptive capacity of the individual. There are some who fulfill their obligation of Torah-study by reading the Sh'ma prayer, if more is impossible for them,4 whereas others have the obligation to study Torah all day!5

"Clouds of Glory" in Torah

When we step out into the parched wilderness of the everyday world, where evil forces abound6 like the snakes and scorpions in the Sinai desert of old, we are protected by the force of self-sacrifice which each and every Jew possesses by virtue of his intrinsic connection and link with Torah. Just as a Torah-scroll is complete and wholly sacred only when all its letters are complete, so all Jews together form the totality of holiness of Israel and the Torah, and even the Jew who is on the very lowest spiritual level has the "Torah-common-denominator" of self-sacrifice, the potential to give his life for G‑d.

This dimension is the "clouds of glory" of the Torah. The clouds encompassed and protected all the Jews — even those few who still clung to idolatry — from the crossing of the Red Sea till their entry into Israel. In a similar way this aspect of Torah encompasses each and every one of our people from the greatest to the smallest; it gives us the strength to go through the awful wilderness, not to fear the snakes and serpents, and to be constantly imbued with a spirit of self-sacrifice.

"Water of Miriam's Well" in Torah

Water has the essential characteristic that it descends from high places to low places. The Torah, too, descends from the heights of lofty, Divine, profound wisdom to become clothed in the actual letters and words of the Written Torah and Oral Torah, thereby becoming available to everyone. Whoever recites the words of the Written Torah (even if he does not understand what the words mean) or learns the Oral Torah (the Mishna, Talmud, commentaries, etc., even if he understands no more than the simple explanation) receives the nourishment (manna) and protection (clouds of glory) of Torah.7