“And it was when the entire nation concluded its crossing and the ark of Hashem and the Kohanim passed before the people.” This passage seems to be out of sequence, considering that the Scriptures already presented many of the details which followed the crossing. Why have we digressed and returned to the actual crossing of the Jordan to discuss a fine point regarding the Kohanim? This suggests that the Kohanim’s personal experience was outside of the realm of the all encompassing miracle at the crossing and was treated as an experience unto itself.
A more careful analysis of the passage will shed some light on this matter. The order in the passage is that the ark of Hashem and the Kohanim passed, mentioning the ark first and the Kohanim last. This differs greatly from the above references in which the Kohanim who carried the ark are always mentioned first. An exact reading here seems to suggest that the ark travelled on its own and the Kohanim followed along. Indeed our Chazal do deduce from multiple references in the passages that an amazing miracle transpired at this point. They explain that the Kohanim actually stepped backwards out of the Jordan. This maneuver placed them on one side of the returned river and the Jewish people on the other. Suddenly, the ark lifted itself together with the Kohanim and flew over the Jordan, thus reuniting the ark with the Jewish people. But, as the Radak raises the concern, of what value was this miracle and what circumstances could have necessitated it?
We may consider the following explanation in attempting to understand the miracle’s lesson. Apparently, even after the open revelation of the splitting of the Jordan, a lesson remained to be learned. The Jewish nation’s entry to the Promised Land marked the inception of the Jewish settlement of Israel. Sforno (see commentary to Breishis 9:20) teaches us an important principle regarding inceptions and beginnings. If the outset of a project is accompanied by perfection and wholesomeness, the project possesses serious potential to endure. But if it begins with imperfection, the far-reaching results can be catastrophic.
With this in mind we approach the miracle of the flying ark and offer the following interpretation. The ark of Hashem represents the Torah in its entirety and the presence of Hashem which rests above it. It is well understood that the Jewish people’s existence in Eretz Yisroel is totally dependent upon their association to and involvement with the ark (Torah). Due to the specific conditions revolving around the splitting of the Jordan, it was necessary for the Jewish people to “leave” the ark behind. We even discover in the previous passage their reluctance to doing so. According to Metzudos Dovid this is the meaning of the words, “And the people hastened and crossed over.” They were uncomfortable leaving the ark behind in the Jordan;therefore, they rushed across to hasten the ark’s return. However, the fact remains that they were forced to be detached from the ark during their initial moments of entry.
Although any period of detatchment can be difficult, much more problematic is that this is their initial step into the Promised Land. The thought of being present in Hashem’s land without Hashem’s actual presence was a total impossibility. Therefore, Hashem reassured the Jews of His presence at the moment the Jewish people concluded their crossing. Nothing could or would separate Hashem from His people; neither water noror distance was an exception. This is why this miraculous incident is treated as a lesson in itself. In effect the flying ark was a lesson to the Jewish nation regarding their entry and was unrelated per se to the miraculous crossing of the Jordan.
“And the children of Reuven and Gad and half the tribe of Menashe went armed before the Jewish people as Moshe had spoken to them.” This passage refers to the condition Moshe made with these tribes allowing them portions of the east side of the Jordan if they lead the Jewish people in battle. Although the Torah makes no reference to any condition with Menashe, this passage reveals that his tribe was included in the agreement. However, one interesting point to note is the change of word usage when describing the condition of arms. Moshe Rabbeinu repeatedly used the term “Chalutzim” whereas Yehoshua talked in terms of “Chamushim”.(see Yehoshua 1:14)
It seems that the distinction to be made is that one refers to an armed position prepared to battle at any given moment and the other to a general state of protection. Moshe’s condition with Gad and Reuven was to stand “Chalutzim,” prepared for the imminent possibility of war. This encompassed all situations and all predicaments that the Jewish people would experience. However, Yehoshua was speaking to Gad and Reuven on the heels of the splitting of the Jordan. In the upcoming passages we will learn that the spontaneous response of the inhabitants of the land was fright and terror. They were in complete awe from the Hashem of Israel who was leading the war of conquest against them with an iron hand. At this juncture it was not necessary for Gad and Reuven to be “Chalutzim,” prepared for imminent battle. “Chamushim,” which means to take the armed lead role, was appropriate and necessary. The Jewish people required strength and fortification, and the armed leadership of Gad and Reuven would be a key factor in providing this necessary encouragement.
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