The Holy Blessed One said: Their desire (meshukayuton) is for me; and the Rabbis say: These ones' souls will be taken with a kiss. Rabbi Azariah said: We found that Aaron's soul was taken by none other than a kiss, as is written: “And Aaron the priest went up on Mount Hor at God's word (al-pi hashem, lit. ‘by God's mouth’), and died there” (Numbers 33:38). And from where do we know as regards Moses’ soul? As is written: “And there died Moses, the servant of God, at God's word (al-pi hashem, lit. ‘by God's mouth’)” (Deuteronomy 34:5). And from where do we know as regards Miriam? Since it is written: ‘And Miriam died there’ (Numbers 20:1). Just as the “there” later on [with Aaron and Moses] is by God's mouth, so too here, but it is indecent to spell it out.
(Song of Songs Rabbah 1:5)
From the day that Miriam returned to the encampment, God's statement about her "would she not be disgraced" (Numbers 12:14) was fulfilled, and she hid in the tent and no longer revealed herself to the Children of Israel. Like the moon, which, too, sought to reign as an equal, and was told "Go and diminish yourself," she would emerge only at the time when darkness would descend, and hurry to that well which the Holy Blessed One had left them, which tumbled along with them on their journeys.
Miriam sat alone, as the people were scared of her leprosy, lest it return, and she herself waited for that leprosy to come and destroy her face and take her soul. And what would she do every night at the time that she would come to the well? She would lean down to those very same waters, to see if the delicate splendor of her face had dimmed. She wanted to know if the skin pendant on it had been devoured, and her eyes sunk again in their graves. When at that time she would see that the light still flowed from her countenance, that she had asked for forgiveness and been forgiven— she wept for her face, which nobody any longer ever saw or kissed, not her beloved, not her brothers, not her friends.
One night, at the time she usually went to the well to check her appearance, the full moon that hung above her appeared to her in the water. Her tears dripped into the well, and the reflections of her face and of the moon mixed one with the other.
As she cried, the waters began to recede. She wanted to know what they were up to, and she doubled over the mouth of the well and her heart sank, as her image was no longer visible in the water. She strained her eyes into the waters and the moon rose in them again in all her fullness. The moon trembled in the waters, and her visage hid and revealed itself and seemed like that of her mother, Yocheved.
Miriam's heart rose up, as the longings imprisoned in her from the day that her mother had died broke the lock of her heart and flooded her. She wanted to look at her more, sank her head into the well until she felt a mouth kissing her on her lips.
Her empty pitcher slipped to the ground and shattered.
At first light, the one called the morning star, the daughters of Israel came to fill their pitchers at that same well and found it dry. They said, let's call our sister Miriam to raise the waters, since this well has been given to us in our wanderings only because of her.
They said, "Who will go into that tent?" since they were scared to.
Zipporah said: "I will, since after all this disease infected her because she tried to bring my husband back to me." She found her lying in her bed, draped in a gentle light, her eyes closed, and her lips pursed like a baby's.
She said, "We will return to you, my sister."
She exited and told them.
Some say that as they were preparing her body for burial, they wailed over her, "’Who is she that shines through like the dawn, beautiful as the moon?’" (Song of Songs 6:10). And some say they wailed "'Oh, let him kiss me (yishakeni) with the kisses of his mouth!’” (Song of Songs 1:2)
*Translated into English by Yehudah Mirsky. This piece was originally written in Hebrew as “Midrash Petirat Miriam”, and published in Dirshuni: Midreshei Nashim, eds. Tamar Biala and Nehama Weingarten Mintz (Yedioth Ahronoth and the Jewish Agency 2009).