“And Yehoshua said to them, ‘Pass in front of the ark of Hashem into the midst of the Jordan and each of you lift one stone on his shoulder corresponding to the number of the tribes of Israel.'” Yehoshua’s statement addressed the twelve designated representatives of the tribes, who obviously corresponded to the number of tribes of Israel. Why would Yehoshua find it necessary to highlight this most obvious point? What message was he conveying through this? In truth, we find this very same point repeated in an upcoming verse (8). Therein it is also stated, “And they lifted twelve stones…. according to the number of tribes in Israel.” Once again, the Scriptures stress the corresponding aspect of the stones to the tribes of Israel. Why is this detail so significant?
Apparently, the miracle at the Jordan was meant to be viewed both as a collective experience and as an individual experience. Yehoshua realized that inasmuch as the war of conquest would be fought as an entire nation, many situations would arise for the individual tribes to finish the work. Secluded pockets of Canaanites were inevitable and the respective Jewish tribe of that region would be required to defeat the remaining enemy. Accordingly, each tribe as an individual entity needed to know with confidence that Hashem would assist it in conquering the mighty remaining forces. But the question remained to be answered: although as a whole the entire nation merited Hashem’s miraculous hand, what about the individual tribes? Could they also anticipate that Hashem’s presence would accompany them throughout their battles of conquest?
This is why Yehoshua made a point of the twelve stones corresponding to the twelve tribes. In effect, each tribe was represented by a stone reflecting that he merited the miracle on his own accord. Consequently, when the need would arise for an individual tribe to draw inspiration from the miracle, it would be accomplished. The twelve stones meant that Hashem assisted the tribes individually as well as collectively, and that each tribe could expect Hashem’s continuous assistance whenever the need would arise.
“In order that this should be a sign in your midst so that when your children ask you tomorrow saying, ‘What are these stones to you?’ You shall say to them…..” Yehoshua commanded the representatives to carry the stones into Eretz Yisroel to serve as a lesson to the future generation about the miracle. Thus far, no mention had been made regarding erecting the stones as a monument. Apparently, the mere presence of the stones served as a sufficient memorial of the miracle. However, the children’s question about the stones includes the words ‘to you’ which reflects an affinity to the stones themselves. The children seem to be questioning the peculiar attachment of their parents to the stones. They ask, “What are these to you? After all, they are nothing but stone.” A careful analysis of the next passage will reveal the significance of the stones and the parents’ affinity to them.
“And say to them, ‘For the waters of the Jordan were cut in the presence of the ark of Hashem, when it passed in the Jordan the waters were cut. And these stones shall be an eternal memorial for the Jewish people.” It is interesting to note that the participation of the Jewish nation in crossing the Jordan is totally omitted. The miracle of water splitting is commemorated; however, the intended recipient of the experience, the Jewish people, goes completely unmentioned. In addition there seems to be serious repetition in this passage. After the Scriptures state that the Jordan waters were cut in the presence of the Ark it says again that the waters split upon the ark’s arrival. It seems that the Jewish people’s crossing is either self-evident or totally insignificant in this dialogue. Apparently, the only significant detail here is the exact timing of the miracle in relationship to the ark, namely, that the waters split immediately upon the ark’s arrival.
The message born out of this is that these stones were by no means ordinary ones. From numerous previous passages we can surmise the sanctified status of these stones. We have learned that the Kohanim who carried the ark stood on these very stones upon its arrival at the Jordan bank. We have also learned that it was then and there that Hashem’s presence atop the ark was felt with an intensity tantamount to that of the secluded Holy ofHolies. Incidentally, Mahral teaches us that the sanctity of the Holy of Holies – the Holiest place on earth – was tantamount to the sanctity of Gan Eden, the Garden of Eden. It follows logically, that at the moment of the Jordan’s split the sanctity of the area was, in some way, tantamount to that of Gan Eden.
We can now appreciate the Jewish people’s affinity to these stones. The stones were, in fact, hewed from that exact location where this great revelation occurred. The sanctity they represented was, in reality, far beyond any exposure or experience the Jewish people had or ever would have. When the parents approached these stones, it was with utter reverence and awe, and with envisioning an experience of Gan Eden. This behavior is what the children were questioning. “What are these stones ‘to you’?” The childrenwere undoubtedly familiar with the miracle of the Jordan and its need to be commemorated. But the awe and reverence stirred by the stones baffled the children.
In response to the children’s question, the parents, as eye-witnesses to the miracle, explained that the Jordan split specifically because of Hashem’s intense presence on these very stones. The parents had merited an experience of Gan Eden and these stones embodied that lesson. They were the sole tangible remnant of this revelation and occupied enormous significance in the eyes of the parents. With this understanding, we realize that no need existed to erect monument. The mere presence of the stones commanded such respect and reverence that the entire miraculous story was revealed and sensed through them.
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