(19:1) YHVH spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: This is the ritual law that YHVH has commanded…. (19:22) Whatever that impure touches shall be impure; and the person who touches the impure one shall be impure until evening.
(20:1) The Israelites arrived in a body [kol ha-eidah] at the wilderness of Zin on the first new moon, and the people stayed at Kadesh. Miriam died there and was buried there.
–Numbers/Bamidbar 19:1, 19:22; 20:1 (from Torah: The Women’s Commentary)


This bit of white space, between the last verse of chapter 19 and the first verse of chapter 20, constitutes 38 years in the wilderness. Two clues to this passage of time:

1) We read in this chapter (verse 20:28) of Aaron’s death. This event took place, we read in Bamidbar/Numbers 33:38, “in the fortieth year after the Israelites had left the land of Egypt.”

2) Israel arrives in the wilderness of Zin, we read in verse 20:1, “kol ha-eidah” [“in a body” or “the whole community”]. This is understood by commentators, such as Abraham Ibn Ezra and Rashi, to mean that the punishment announced in the portion Shelach* is complete. That is, those who arrived at Zin — with the exceptions of Miriam and Aaron (whose deaths are reported here, in chapter 20) and Moses (who dies in Devarim/Deuteronomy 34:5, at the edge of the Land) — constitute those who will make it into the Land.

*”your carcasses shall drop in this Wilderness. Your children will roam in the Wilderness for forty years and bear your guilt, until the last of your carcasses in the Wilderness” (14:32-33) — has been effected.

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Bamidbar, midrash

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