“Around forty thousand armed soldiers passed before Hashem prepared to war at the plains of Yericho.” The previous passage discussed the passing of the tribes before the people. However, in this passage, an additional dimension is introduced, “passing before Hashem.” In truth the previous passage dealt with the encouragement of the Jewish people provided by the tribes. It therefore appropriately highlighted their impact on the people. That dimension showed Reuven and Gad taking the lead, displaying their readiness to assist their brethren whenever the need arose.
However, this passage reflects Reuven and Gad’s responsibility to Hashem. In their original condition with Moshe, they consented to stand preparedwith their swords drawn at all times. Their commitment to Moshe was to become per se the guardians of the Jewish people. But in doing so a major factor must be taken into consideration: the fact that the true guardian of Israel is Hashem. And, for that matter, the fact that all wars and all protection are ultimately in the hands of Hashem. Although the tribes did stand guard, they were fully cognizant of the role that Hashem played in things. True, they were doing their fair share, but ultimately it was Hashem who made the difference. For this reason this passage stresses the tribes’ passing “before Hashem,” reflecting their awareness that Hashem was the real leader. The words “before Hashem” actually echo the exact words which repeatedly appear in Moshe’s original words to the tribes. Although Reuven and Gad did directly lead the Jews to Yericho in preparation for battle, they remained focused on their presence before Hashem. With this they demonstrated that even after their calming presence to the people, the ultimate protection of the people was truly inthe hands of Hashem (see Malbim ad loc.).
“On that day Hashem elevated Yehoshua in the eyes of all Israel and they revered him as they revered Moshe his entire life.” Our Rabbis teach us that the elders of the times found difficulty in showing total respect to Yehoshua. Although he was their leader, they remained; nonetheless, his peers from early years. In expression of this disturbance, they coined the classic phrase, “The face of Moshe is likened to the sun and the face ofYehoshua to the moon” (Baba Basra 75a). With this they conveyed their disturbance that Yehoshua’s brilliance in Torah trailed behind that of his teacher in a major way. However, in these words the elders unknowingly revealed the secret of Yehoshua’s success and appointment to leadership. Although the moon has no light of its own, it serves as a perfect reflection of the light of the sun. In this vein Yehoshua, like the moon, was a perfect reflection of his teacher Moshe Rabbeinu. This meant that, in effect, the greatness of Moshe Rabbeinu would accompany the Jewish people throughout their initial years in the promised land.
This point was clearly felt through the miraculous crossing of the Jordan. Everyone saw in this a remarkable parallel to the miracle at the Reed Sea of Moshe’s times. They understood through this that experiences similar to those of Moshe’s times awaited the people. After this initial display of Hashem, Yehoshua gained the reverence of the entire Jewish nation. Everyone began seeing the greatness of Moshe Rabbeinu in their presentleader, Yehoshua. Yehoshua the student was well versed in Moshe’ entire program and knew all its nuances. From the experience at the Jordan, they realized that following Yehoshua with sincerity and devotion would give rise to a relationship with Hashem likened to that in Moshe’s times. This conclusion was cause for everyone, without exception, to show Yehoshua the perfect reverence due to Moshe Rabbeinu, the teacher in whose ways Yehoshua followed so perfectly.
“And Hashem said to Yehoshua stating, ‘Command the Kohanim who carry the ark of testimony that they should go up out of the Jordan.'” “And Yehoshua commanded the Kohanim stating, ‘Go up out of the Jordan.'” This exact repetition of the previous passage suggests the significance of the precise wording commanded to the Kohanim. Indeed, this does reveal the miraculous nature of the upcoming experience.
“And it was when the Kohanim who carried the ark of Hashem’s covenant went up out of the Jordan the palms of the feet of the Kohanim touched dry land and the Jordan waters returned to their place and filled its banks like before.” The wording, “Go up out of the Jordan” indicates an immediate act of removal on the part of the Kohanim. They were not told to cross the Jordan, rather they were told to go up out of it. This means, as our Rabbis explain, that the Kohanim were to step back onto the river bank – which they did. This discovery completes our understanding of an earlier passage (4:11) which implies that the ark and the Kohanim flew over the river. Because the Kohanim were on the eastern side of the Jordan, only a miracle could get them across. And, in fact, this is exactly what happened.
However, we find ourselves perturbed once again by the order of these passages. This is the second time we have returned to this incident although by now we’ve long crossed the Jordan and travelled towards the plains of Yericho. What important detail still remained to be seen, and what lesson can be learned from revisiting this scene?
The startling factor we notice here is that the water returned immediately to its original flow. The moment the Kohanim stepped back and out of the Jordan it returned to its fullness at its banks. This was distinctly different from the splitting of the Reed Sea. There, the raising of Moshe’s hand was necessary to return the water to its original flow and prior to that the water remained split.
Apparently there were multiple dimensions to the miracle of the Jordan. First and foremost was the message of the ark and the presence of Hashem. Through this miracle the Jewish people entered the land with a sense of confidence that Hashem would always be there for them. In addition they realized that Eretz Yisroel and Torah went hand in hand. We recently discovered that through the miracle Yehoshua’s status was elevated to one of total reverence and respect. But the final dimension was the extent ofthe Jewish people’s belonging to and in Eretz Yisroel.
The overflowing Jordan River served as a restrictive border and barrier against all foreigners. But when the Jewish nation merely knocked on its doors, the doors opened immediately. They remained open to allow free access to every single Jewish person. But the moment everyone was safe and sound within its borders, the Jordan closed its gates and shut them tightly.
The effect this had on the Jewish people was to provide a feeling of security that they truly belonged in Eretz Yisroel. Looking over their shoulder, they saw the full flowing river immediately returning to its course and leaving no trace behind of their having crossed it moments ago. To them this meant that the river opened up exclusively to allow their entry. It interrupted its flow momentarily to usher in its people and then went right back to its restrictive position. This assured them of their truly belonging to and in Israel and that nothing would stand in their way of inhabiting the land.
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