The days of mourning were over. Looking over my shoulder as we got underway I could just make out the peak of Mt. Nebo through the hazy sunlight. It was the last time I ever saw him.
As I watched Moshe our Teacher walk up the mountain, it was the silence I will never forget. Not a sound! The wind was still, the birds seemingly suspended in the sky, the towering mountains of Moav silent and brooding, and the nation struck dumb, not knowing what to do, overwhelmed by the moment they knew had to be, had to come.
Only later would the pain make itself heard. Moshe was gone. Never again would there be one like our Moshe! Truly we felt like orphans bereft of our identity, our parent, and our security. What would become of us?
As the days of mourning passed so did some of the fear. The loss was still too fresh and so was the pain, but the fear of the future began to recede with the anticipation of a dream soon to be realized.
With every passing day my sense of excitement and anticipation awoke. This was it! We made it! The Promised Land! Soon we would begin a new era in world history. Soon the promise of 500 years would be fulfilled.
The day before the day it happened we awoke to a feeling of hurried expectation. There was movement all around as runners summoned the tribal dignitaries to Yehoshua’s presence.
“What’s happening? Does anyone know what’s going on?” “I’m not sure but I heard a runner say something about breaking camp and crossing the Yarden (Jordan) in three days!”
Soon enough the news spread like wild fire – G-d had spoken to Yehoshua and we were preparing to cross the Yarden and enter the Promised Land! Little did I know that we would soon witness miracles and majesty of a magnitude not experienced since the first year of the Exodus.
Traveling from Shittim we arrived at the banks of the Yarden. I gathered my children and took them to the edge of the river. Only a short time ago the cloud cover would have obstructed our view, but Since the death of Aharon the clouds had dissipated and the stark beauty of the plains of the Yarden backed by what we would one day call the Judean Hills, could be seen by all. It was the end of the rainy season and the river was pulsing with the might of its swollen waters.
“Abba, Abba!” my youngest called, “I don’t see it! I don’t see it!” Not knowing what he meant, I lifted him onto my shoulder so he could see the Yarden and the lush plains surrounding her.
“Can you see it now?” I asked him. “No Abba, I still don’t see it – it all looks like water.” His young voice was filled with such disappointment I lowered him from my shoulder, put him on the ground, crouched down before him and said, “I don’t understand. What don’t you see? What do you mean that it all looks like water?”
Looking at me with perfect trust and innocence he said, “But Abba, I mean the river. Moshe promised it would be flowing with milk and honey but it looks like water!” Scooping him up in my arms I swung him around and then hugged him tight. Kissing him on his head I lifted him high and said, “Soon you will see, soon you will see. Together we will cross that river and we will find the milk and honey that Moshe promised!”
Trumpets sounded and the tribes fell into their assigned places. Three days had passed since we had been told to get ready and the time for the crossing had come. Remembering the 40 years it took us to arrive at this moment I could not help but reflect on the man who had brought us here. How he longed to be here, how he so wanted to enter the Promised Land. He would have cherished this moment. Looking over my shoulder I could just make out the peak of Mt. Nebo through the hazy sunlight. It had been the last time I saw him.
In the distance I could make out the Kohanim carrying the Aron Hakodesh (Holy Ark). As instructed, all the tribes had positioned themselves behind the Aron Hakodesh allowing for a distance of 2000 Amos (cubit) (1 cubit = approx. 21″) between the Ark and the nation. All of a sudden Yehoshua raised his hand and they stopped. The Aron was carried to the edge of the river and we all could hear Yehoshua’s voice.
“Draw near my beloved people. Fear not the future campaign to take the Promised Land. When the inhabitants of the land flee before us you will know that G-d dwells within our midst.
Now my people, behold the glory of G-d as He performs miracles before your eyes and the eyes of your children! Choose from among you 12 men, one man per tribe and they are to await my instructions. The rest of you get ready! When the feet of the Kohanim carrying the Aron touch the waters of the Yarden the water will split and you will be able to cross!”
“Abba, Abba! Did you hear what Yehoshua just said? G-d is going to split the Yarden! Please Abba, lift me up so I can see!”
Again it was the silence that I can vividly remember. It was as if all of creation stood at attention to witness G-d’s revealed majesty. Behind us stood the mountains of Moav and before us in the distance stood the towering walls of Jericho. Among us were standing the many survivors who had witnessed Kriyas Yam Suf (Parting of the Sea), and Matan Torah (Giving of the Torah), and the many young upon whom G-d was about to leave His indelible mark of awesome greatness.
As the Kohanim’s feet touched the waters of the Yarden, an involuntary gasp of astonishment resounded from the mouths of millions. “The water has stopped flowing Abba and it’s beginning to pile up!”
As we stood in awestruck silence the mighty swollen waters of the Yarden were halted as if by an invisible hand. The lower waters continued their mad rush southward while the upper waters came to an abrupt stop and began to pile up. Higher and higher the water rose until the towering wall of water blocked out the morning sun. Had Yehoshua not sounded the trumpets to proceed we would have remained frozen in silence under the spell of the ever-rising wall of water.
Before the people began to cross the dry river bed and enter the Promised Land Yehoshua turned to the 12 chosen men and commanded: “From the river bed in front of the place where the Kohanim are standing carrying the Aron, lift onto your shoulders 12 large stones, one stone per man, one stone per tribe. These stones will find their permanent resting place at this evening’s campsite. They will be a remembrance of this miracle when G-d split the waters of the Yarden. When your children will ask you what these twelve stones are you will tell them of this great and awesome miracle.
Additionally, Yehoshua took twelve other stones from beneath where the Kohanim stood and erected them as a permanent monument on the spot where the Kohanim had stood in the water carrying the Aron when G-d split the Yarden. Quickly, the nation began to cross the Yarden. Granted, it could not have equaled the spectacle of when the nation crossed the Yam Suf; but trust me when I tell you that the awe with which we beheld this crossing bordered on a primal fear that was barely concealed beneath the facade of our fascination. As the people reached the western banks of the Yarden and placed their feet on the hallowed grounds of their forefathers most did not even sense the magnitude of the moment because of the overwhelming spectacle of the rising wall of water. However, there were some of the elders, men and even more women, who remained focused on the extraordinary moment. As they touched the rocky shores of the Yarden they fell to their knees, and with tears streaming down their faces bent their lips to kiss the Promised Land. Digging their fingers into the mud and dirt they all but forgot the majesty of G-d’s revealed awesomeness as they immersed themselves in the fulfillment of His promise.
To merit that which even Moshe Rabbeinu had not merited revealed G-d’s greatness in the scope and span of time. Far beyond gold and silver, far beyond the power and might of nature was G-d’s absolute control of time and history. To live to see the promises was to live to see G-d revealed and to live to see the greatest miracle of all.
To be continued for Parsha Ki Savoe.
Copyright © 2003 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley Village, CA.