…What happened next was possibly even more impressive than the awesoome spectacle of G-d parting the Yarden (Jordan).
As the Kohanim carrying the Aron Hakodesh (Holy Ark) stepped onto the West bank of the Yarden the invisible hand holding back the water let go. Expecting the impossibly high wall of water to come crashing down, there was a collective cringe of anticipation; however, that is not what happened. Instead of crashing down, the wall of water continued on its natural course by the bottom of the wall slipping into the dry riverbed. In what appeared to be mere moments the towering wall disappeared and the Yarden continued flowing as if nothing had ever happened.
The anticipation of millions of tons of water crashing down like a Tsunami switched into a shocking realization of G-d’s control, power, and greatness that knows no limits. Once again we were seeing with our own eyes that G-d is above and beyond the limited expectations, workings, and comprehensions of mere humans.
The silence was deafening. Caught in the moment of anticipation our minds assumed that the wall of water would return to the riverbed in the crashing manner that would have been had we been in charge and not G-d. Instead, G-d did the unanticipated and the impossible. G-d returned the mighty Yarden to its rushing, powerful, flow in a silent moment that left us wondering if we had imagined what was imprinted forever in our memories. As we collectively realized that G-d had once again done the impossible, shouts of surprise burst forth as everyone turned to his or her neighbor overwhelmed with the need to share what they had just seen and realized.
“My children gather near! Do you understand what just happened?”
“Yes Abba, I do! G-d just took us across the Yarden and my sandals aren’t even wet!”
“Yes my little one, G-d did take us across the Yarden and my sandals aren’t wet either! But listen to me – what I want you to remember is even more than that. I want you to remember what happened here today so you can tell it to your children and grandchildren for many years to come. What we all saw just now is as powerful as the Parting of the Sea and as awesome the Giving of the Torah. We just saw G-d! Do you understand my dearest children, we saw G-d! We saw G-d act in a way that proves to us that He does exist and that He cares for us and that He loves us!
Today we saw G-d in two ways. We saw Him in the majesty and awesomeness of His limitless power and we saw Him in the quiet strength of the Creator Who not only created the universe but maintains it and controls it at all times!
Tell me my children, what made the greatest impression on you? What was the greatest part about our crossing the Yarden?”
“Abba, I thought the water would never stop climbing! It was so high I said to myself that even the evil Nimrod didn’t build his Tower of Babel as high as that wall of water!”
“Abba. For me it was the way the Yarden just emptied and disappeared. True, the water-wall was amazingly high but when I looked down-river the water that was not stopped by G-d continued rushing away and in a few moments it was as if the mighty Yarden had ceased to be! I imagined that the reverse must have been true when G-d first created the Yarden. At first there was nothing and then with a snap of His fingers the riverbed appeared. Another snap of His fingers and it was filled with water rushing toward the sea. This time it was just the opposite! A snap of His fingers and the wall of water disappeared as if it never was! That was really cool! (whatever…)
“Abba, for me it was the silence. It wasn’t as if some earth-shattering event changed the Yarden from a flowing river to a towering Tsunami. It happened in such silence. Except for the noise that we were all making the Yarden began to stand-up as if at attention. I imagined the angle in charge of protocol calling to the river, “Yarden, G-d demands your attention! His children need to cross!” Then, the Yarden immediately and silently jumped to attention just as I would have if I had been summoned by G-d. I wouldn’t have made a sound because that might give the impression that I wanted to be noticed, and being noticed is the very last thing anyone would want when in the presence of G-d. Not because of being afraid but because I would feel so insignificant. My only job at that moment, the only purpose for my existence would be to do as G-d wishes. My making noise could only detract from my loosing myself in doing the G-d’s command. That is why I noticed that the Yarden jumped to attention in silence. And Abba, now that I think of it, the miracle is as much a statement of G-d’s special love for us as it was a display of His greatness?”
“Yes my children, each of you have seen another aspect of G-d’s awesome greatness. And, you are so right to point out that as much as we must recognize and remember how remarkable G-d’s is, it is equally important to realize how unique our relation with G-d is. “There is no other nation like Am Yisroel! We are singular in all the world!” Who else but Am Yisroel is gifted with G-d’s special attention and love?”
However, I want you to see another dimension of today’s miracle. Did you notice the way G-d returned the Yarden to its natural state? Without fanfare or special attention. The Yarden did not come crashing down as we all thought it would. Instead it slipped back into its natural path and in moments it was as if the miracle had never happened. My dearest children always remember that what you think as natural and normal is the greatest of all miracles. It does not take great fanfare and spectacles to see G-d. If you only think about it for a moment you will always be able to see G-d behind the thin veil of natural law.”
As the miraculous moment began to recede into the pell-mell of reorganization Yehoshua called for our attention.
“My beloved children! This is the moment we have dreamt about for over 500 years. From the moment that Avraham and Sarah graced the world with their love for G-d and humanity our people have awaited this event. We stand at the zenith of history and are witness to the fulfillment of G-d’s promise!
With the permission of the Almighty; in honor of the Avos and Imahos in whose merits we stand here today; and in gratitude to His greatest servant, Moshe Rabbeinu, our teacher and redeemer and all the generations that have preceded us; I claim this land for Am Yisroel! May we merit fulfilling all the commandments of G-d and may we prove deserving of the gift of His continued benevolence and protection!
Now my children, we have much to do. Before the evening arrives we must travel north to the mountains of Ayval and Grizim. Remember, among Moshe’s final instructions to us was to gather at the twin mountains of Ayval and Grizim and recommit ourselves to the mission of Am Yisroel. (See Yehoshua 8:30-35) There we will build our first Mizbeach (alter) and offer Korbanos (sacrifices) to G-d! Quickly, let us assemble for travel and behold the greatness of G-d as He again does miracles in our midst!”
Authors Note: The twin mountains of Grizim and Ayval are located in the north of Israel, in the area known today as the Shomron. Towering over the city of Shechem (Nabulus) and the grave of Yoseph, the two mountains dominate the horizon for the many settlements that are part of the Shomron. If we assume that the nation crossed the Yarden near Jericho, the nation had to travel the length of Bikat Hayarden (the Jordan Valley) to reach Grizim and Ayval. By bus or car it takes a couple of hours; however, at the time that the Jews crossed over the Yarden they were traveling on foot and numbered three million strong. The commentaries point out that on the day that the Jews entered the land, they accomplished the impossible. Let me quote the Radak on the verses in Yehoshua (Joshua).
“On the day that the nation crossed the Yarden and came to the mountains of Grizim and Ayval, they brought with them the twelve stones (lifted from the Yarden) and inscribed on them the entire Torah (in 70 languages). They built a Mizbeach and offered sacrifices. The nation ate, rejoiced, celebrated, spoke the blessings and the curses (this week’s Parsha), and erected the 12 stones as a monument…”
In my recent trip to the Shomron I visited Alon Moreh. The former mayor of the settlement, one of its founding members, took us to the edge of the settlement overlooking the northern reaches of the Jordan Valley called in the Navi (Prophets) as Mevoe Hashemesh (The Way Of The Sun – the valley is on an East – West vector). From the vantage point of the settlement’s location we could see how the Jordan Valley running north to south turns west at its northern tip and opens up into a magnificent valley (unfortunately, under Arab rule) that runs east to west. The western end of that valley ends at the base of the twin mountains, Grizim and Ayval.
Our guide explained that the only sensible, although still miraculous, way that the Jews could have traveled from Yericho to Grizim and Ayval was to follow the Jordan Valley North and then turn west into Mevoe Hashemesh until reaching Ayval and Grizim. (approx. 50 miles as a bird flies)
More so than that, he directed our attention to the north corner of Ayval where one of the greatest and controversial archeological finds was discovered. After searching the entire area for signs of early Jewish settlement, a solid stone structure was uncovered on the northern summit of Ayval surrounded by massive amounts of animal bones. After the bones were submitted for testing the results showed that 93% to 97% of the bones came from kosher animals, and specifically animals that were permitted for use on the Mizbeach. The nonreligious archeologist who discovered the sight concluded that he had uncovered the famed Mizbeach of Yehoshua that is described in Yehoshua 8:30. At the time we were unable to visit the sight because of military and safety concerns.
As we read this week’s Parsha and describe the ceremony of Grizim and Ayval, allow your imaginations to soar. Imagine what it would have been like if you and your family had been witness to that moment in history. Take out a map of Eretz Yisroel and trace the pathways of our ancestors as they followed Yehoshua to between the two mountains.
With G-d’s help we will go to Eretz Yisroel this year, and if possible, visit the sight of Yehoshua’s Mizbeach… May our children and we merit thhe even greater revelation of G-d’s awesomeness with the fulfillment of His promise, “And a Redeemer will come to Tzion…”
Copyright © 2002 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, North Hollywood, CA and Assistant Principal, YULA.