Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash
parasha series is dedicated
Le-zekher Nishmat HaRabanit Chana
bat HaRav Yehuda Zelig zt"l.
l'iluy nishmat R.
Mordechai ben Yehuda Leib whose yahrtzeit
is chet Tammuz.
Bnei Yisrael's Journey Through the Plains of
By Rav Tamir Granot
Demise of the Leadership
Parashat Chukkat, the children of the
generation that left Egypt start out on their journey towards the conquest of Eretz Yisrael. The journey starts at the same point
where it was halted 38 years previously at Kadesh.
This is a new beginning, with a new nation. Only the leaders of the older generation
Moshe, Aharon and Miriam are still alive. These three venerable leaders will not
enter the land. We are accustomed
to thinking that Moshe and Aharon are barred from entry because of their sin at
Mei Meriva. However, the
introduction to the journey towards Eretz
Yisrael, with the death of Miriam which was not result of this sin may
offer a different perspective.
Miriam died because she was a hundred and twenty years old, and because
she could no longer lead this new generation. Perhaps Aharon and Moshe, too, were no
longer capable of leading this generation, owing to their age and to their
psychological distance. They, after
all, had been Among those who left Egypt; the new generation had not. But if this were so, then both of them
should have died together with Miriam.
And if both were punished for the same sin, then why did Moshe not die at
Hor Ha-har together with Aharon?
would seem that we need to take another look at the story of the partings of the
leaders of Israel from the nation, and of their deaths, in order to understand
why Miriam died while still at Kadesh, Aharon at Hor Ha-har, and Moshe only on
the plains of Moav, just prior to the nation entering the land.
The difference between the first journey and the second
top of our questions regarding the deaths of the leaders of Israel and their
relationship with the generation that was going to enter the land, we must also
address a more fundamental question concerning the second journey to enter the
land. There are many differences
between the journey undertaken in the second year (from Mount Sinai) and the one
begun in the fortieth year. The
most central of them concerns the route.
The first journey saw Bnei Yisrael standing at the gateway to Eretz Yisrael, in Kadesh-Barne'a,
planning to enter from the south and move northward; for this reason the spies
were sent from there. Indeed, this
was also the route followed by the spies: "They went up through the Negev, and
came as far as Chevron." The intention to enter from the south northward i.e.,
in the direction of the mountains of the Negev arises also from the report of
the spies: "Amalek dwells in the land of the Negev, and the Chittites and the
Jebusites and the Emorites dwell in the mountains, and the Canaanites dwell at
the sea and along the Jordan." First they mention the Amalekites, who are
closest to the Negev; then they talk about the inhabitants of the mountain range
in order: the Chitties in Chevron (as we recall from the story of Avraham),
the Jebusites in the Jerusalem area, and the Emorites throughout the rest of
the mountainous area.
second journey follows an altogether different route. Bnei Yisrael follow an extensive by-pass
to the east, arriving in the plains of Moav, and ultimately entering the land to
conquer it from east to west. In
three places the second journey is described: in our parasha (chapters 20-21), in the order
of the stations in Parashat Masei
(chapter 33), and in Moshe's narrative in Sefer Devarim (chapter 2). In none of these places is there any
mention of the reason for the change in route. The first plan is simple and natural: to
enter by the shortest way. The
second journey, in contrast, involves a route that seems quite illogical, for
It is extremely long, with no reasonable reason, and in difficult desert
It requires passing through the territories of several kingdoms, thereby
creating political and defense complications, as set out in our parasha.
question of the route cannot be simply a matter of strategy or geography, and we
need to seek a direction for solving the mystery. Below, we shall attempt to answer the
question by comparing the three descriptions of the journey with one another,
attempting to arrive at the various significances of the journey by addressing
the different descriptions. A
central question that arises upon reading the description of the journey
concerns the status of the nations on the eastern side of the Jordan, and their
lands. We shall devote attention to
this question too, although it is an issue worthy of more extensive study, which
we hope to undertake on another occasion.
Description of the journey in Parashat
early commentators, and even more so the later ones, especially those
scientifically inclined, attempted to trace the exact route followed by Bnei
Yisrael. The three descriptions
give rise to contradictions that cannot easily be resolved. A fundamental problem that becomes
apparent is the identification of a great many of the places mentioned. Nevertheless, there are enough stations
of whose location we can be certain, that allow us to reconstruct the route
according to each of the three descriptions. In the discussions over the
contradictions between the accounts, what is emphasized is mainly the
geographical issues. We shall
attempt to examine the differences from other perspectives, too, and address the
unique nature and unique purpose of each of the descriptions.
journey according to Parashat Chukkat
Point of departure: Kadesh.
Events at Kadesh: death of Miriam, the sin of Moshe and Aharon, the
dispatch of messengers to the King of Edom.
Planned route: via Edom. In
other words, Bnei Yisrael's original intention was to move eastward, and to
enter the land from the east, since Edom lies to the east of Kadesh.
Actual route: from Kadesh to Hor Ha-har, which lies east/north-east of
Kadesh, close to the border of Edom.
Death of Aharon at Hor Ha-har.
War with the Canaanites dwelling in the mountains of the Negev by the way
of Atarim; the victory, and the destruction of their cities. It is possible that this war preceded
the war at Hor Ha-har, since from there Bnei Yisrael journeyed southward, and
the Canaanites attacked them apparently out of concern that they intended to
From Hor Ha-har deeply into the south, in the direction of the Reed Sea,
in order to circumnavigate the kingdom of Edom, following its refusal to allow
Israel into its border from the east.
Somewhere there, during the journey south (some suggest in the Timna
region) the episode of the serpents took place.
Journey northward to by-pass the land of Edom and Moav on the other side
of their eastern border (Ovot Iyei ha-Avarim).
Arrival at the east side of Arnon: dispatch of messengers to Sichon, with
the hope of reaching the Jordan via the land of the Emori, which lies to the
east of the northern part of the Dead Sea, and perhaps north of it, up to at
War with Sichon and the conquest of his land at Yahatz, up to the border
of Ammon, which was not conquered because it was strong.
10. Conquest of
the land of Ya'zer and the Gil'ad, war with Og and victory against him at
Edre'i, which is east of Beit She'an in the Bashan. Conquest of the Bashan.
southwards to the plains of Moav facing Jericho.
general summary of the main points of the journey, according to Parashat Chukkat:
The nation had originally intended to head due east, perhaps with an
attempt to go up from the south, but this never happened because of the threats
of the nations dwelling on the southern outskirts of the land and the threat of
The entire route is presented as a collection of political and
defense-related necessities: "Edom came out to meet them with a great many
people and with a strong arm, and Edom did not allow Israel to pass through
their border"; "And the Canaanites heard
and they fought against Israel and
took some of them as prisoners
"; "They took possession of his land from Yabbok
as far as the children of Ammon, for the border of the children of Ammon was
The sole purpose of the journey was to arrive with due consideration of
political conditions at the border of Eretz Yisrael. The conquest of the Emori and the land
of Ya'zer were not part of the plan; they were the result of a lack of
choice. When Bnei Yisrael reached
the Arnon Pass in the desert, they were forced to journey westward, in the
direction of the Jordan, since the powerful kingdom of Ammon lay to the
north. It was only Sichon's refusal
to allow Bnei Yisrael to pass that forced them into war and the conquest of the
land of Sichon, later completed with the conquest of the Emori in the land of
Our parasha gives no
indication that there are other nations who have special rights to their lands,
or that Bnei Yisrael are barred from waging war against them for reasons of
Finally, only the ascent northward to Bashan and its conquest are not the
result of pure necessity, since according to the original plan the intention was
to enter from the region of Jericho; what, then, were they doing in Bashan?
Here, apparently, the intention was to conquer as we shall explain below.
The deaths of Miriam and Aharon occur within the framework of the
description of the journey and the progress towards the borders of Eretz Yisrael. As noted, had we not already read of
Aharon's sin, his death would seem natural alongside that of Miriam and the
journey towards the land.
Order of the journey according to the list of stations in Parashat Masei (Bamidbar 33)
the description is laconic, devoid of explanations. This allows us to grasp a general idea
of the route
and a few of the events that take place during its course.
journeys of the second year include places that are known to us Refidim, the
wilderness of Sinai, Kivrot Ha-ta'ava, Chatzerot and then a host of stations
that are not familiar to us from previous descriptions in the Torah. We come back to familiar sites with the
verse, "And they journeyed from Etzion-Gever, and encamped in the wilderness of
Tzin, which is Kadesh."
Bnei Yisrael reach Kadesh from the south, apparently at the end of the
wandering; it is not clear how long before this.
From Kadesh to Hor Ha-har, where Aharon dies.
A hinted reference to the war with the Canaanites, after Hor Ha-har, as
in Parashat Chukkat.
The next places on the list are Tzalmona, Punon, Ovot, Iyei Ha-avarim,
and the plains of Moav. Iyei
Ha-avarim is familiar to us from Chukkat; this refers to a region to the
east of Moav. Our most pressing
question, then, concerns the locations of Tzalmona and Punon. The omission of Etzion-Gever, which is
close to the Dead Sea, and the way of the Arava and Eilat, which are mentioned
in Devarim, with the estimated
location of these places in the northern part of the kingdom of Edom, all add up
to the impression that the Torah is skipping over the journey from the south,
and sending Bnei Yisrael directly eastward, as in Moshe's original plan. On the other hand, the mention of
Etzion-Gever prior to their reaching Kadesh may indicate that the journey
southward is to be regarded as part of the punishment of wandering for forty
years, rather than representing part of the final journey.
general, the description of the journey and its details largely parallel those
of Parashat Chukkat, except for the
omission of the circumnavigation of the land of Edom from the south.
D. The journey according to Devarim 2
The crux of Bnei
Yisrael's wandering in the wilderness moves here to the journey around the land
of Edom which, according to Sefer
Bamidbar, took place only in the fortieth year, and took no longer than a
few months. Following the
description of the war of the ma'apilim, we
the Emori, who dwelled in that mountain, came out against you, and they pursued
you as bees do, and smote you at Seir, as far as Chorma.
you remained at Kadesh for many days, according to the days that you abode
we turned and journeyed into the wilderness via the Sea of Reeds, as God had
spoken to me, and we went around the mountain of Seir for many days. (Devarim 1:44 2:1)
journey from Kadesh comes after "many days" in other words, a long period of
habitation in that one place. As in
the description in Parashat Masei,
the turn southward happens earlier, rather than after Israel's arrival in Kadesh
in the fortieth year. But according
to Sefer Bamidbar there is a return
to Kadesh or, more accurately, Kadesh is not mentioned previously, while
according to Sefer Devarim the
journey from Kadesh southward, which took a long time, continues with a
circumvention of Moav and Edom from the east, with no return in the direction of
And God said to me, saying:
You have compassed this mountain long enough; head yourselves northward.
And He commanded the people, saying: You will pass through the border of your
brethren, the children of Esav, who dwell in Seir; they will be afraid of you,
and you shall take great care
The same idea arises
from the verse summarizing Israel's wanderings in the
And the days that we walked from Kadesh-Barne'a until we passed over Wadi Zered
were thirty-eight years, until all of the generation of the men of war had died
out from the camp, as God had promised you.
rest of the journey may be reconstructed as follows:
From Eilat and from Etzion-Gever the nation journeys to the border of
Edom; from the children of Esav they head in the direction of the wilderness of
Moav - apparently the region to the east of Moav.
From there to Arnon: "Arise, journey on, and cross over Wadi Arnon"; this
develops into the war against Sichon and Og.
general route here is reminiscent of the description in Sefer Bamidbar.
Let us now address the
description of the nature of the journey, according to Moshe's recollection of
it in Sefer Devarim, which is
significantly different from the description in Sefer Bamidbar.
regard to Edom according to Bamidbar, Bnei Yisrael requested
permission to pass through the land, from west to east, but Edom refused. Owing to their threats and their
strength ("with a great many people and with a strong arm"), Bnei Yisrael
withdrew and circumnavigated their borders instead, by journeying
southward. According to Devarim, on the other hand, the journey
southward took place long before, as part of the journeying in the wilderness,
and the encounter with Edom started in the east. There was no necessity to enter the land
of Edom; they simply passed along its outskirts. In contrast to Sefer Bamidbar, Moshe describes the
Edomites as fearing Bnei Yisrael, not as a great and mighty nation. The reason for Bnei Yisrael not entering
their land, and for having to pay for food and water, is not fear of their
attack, but rather protection of their rights: "For I have given the mountain of
Seir to Esav as a possession." This justification goes back to the end of Parashat Vayishlach and the inheritance
of Esav, and explains why Bnei Yisrael were forbidden in the first place from
harming their political rights. It
should be added that concerning Edom the Torah also says, "Your brethren, the
sons of Esav" an expression that is not mentioned in connection with Ammon or
Moav later on.
for Moav and Ammon here too, Bnei Yisrael are forbidden to provoke them, for
they will be passing through their borders and there is a danger that war will
break out. This is something that
God does not want. The reason:
And God said to me: Do not harass Moav, nor provoke them to battle, since I will
not give you of their land for a possession, for I have given Ar to the children
of Lot for a possession.
the description in Parashat Chukkat,
there is no mention at all of any rights of these nations to their respective
lands. Am Yisrael refrain from entering Ammon
and Moav for tactical reasons.
Proof of this lies in the story of Balak: "Balak saw
all that Israel had
done to the Emori, and Moav was greatly afraid of the nation, for they were
." If the prohibition on entering the land of Moav had been on
ideological grounds, why would Moav need to fear? Bnei Yisrael had already
passed by them, and they had already seen that their intention was not to
conquer. However, according to Sefer Bamidbar, there was no such
prohibition. All the decisions were
made on tactical grounds, and therefore from the moment that Sichon was
defeated, Moav was afraid that Bnei Yisrael would gain confidence and calculate
that if Sichon had defeated Moav, and they had defeated Sichon, then Moav would
be an easy prey for them. According
to Devarim, however, there was no
basis for any fear Amongst Moav.
Bnei Yisrael are prohibited from provoking the children of Ammon:
When you come near, opposite the children of Ammon, do not harass them, nor
provoke them, for I shall not give of the land of the children of Ammon to you
as a possession, for I have given it to the children of Lot as a possession.
too, the contrast to Bamidbar is
stark. There, the hinted reason for
refraining from entering the land of Ammon was their strength: "For the border
of the children of Ammon was strong." But here, in Devarim, Moshe asserts that the lands of
Edom, Moav and Ammon belong to them by right, as a possession from God, and
therefore Bnei Yisrael may not violate their rights.
the basis of the verse in Devarim,
the rights and process of taking possession of the respective lands of these
nations parallel the possession of Eretz
Yisrael by Am Yisrael:
The Chorim had previously dwelled in Seir, but the children of Esav succeeded
them, and they destroyed them from before them and dwelled in their stead, as
Israel did to the land of their possession, which God gave to them.
is no point to this comparison if it merely reports the fact of the conquest
itself, since it is self-evident that one conquest resembles another. What the verse is saying is that it has
the same legal standing: it is an inheritance, by right. It seems that the Torah is speaking here
of the conquest of the eastern side of the Jordan, since at the time of Moshe's
speech on the plains of Moav, the conquest of the western side could not be
spoken of in the past tense ("as Israel did to the land of their
contrast to these nations with a legal right to their lands, Sichon and Og, and
their respective peoples, have no right to theirs. Here in Devarim, unlike Bamidbar, the conquest of Bnei Yisrael
is described as the course of first preference. The request to Sichon provides the
excuse for a war whose purpose is the possession of the land by Bnei
Arise, journey onward and pass over Wadi Arnon; see, I have given into your hand
Sichon, king of Cheshbon, the Emorite, and his land; start to possess it, and
contend with him in battle.
This day I will start to put the dread of you and the fear of you upon the
nations that are under all the heaven, that they will hear of you and will
tremble and quake before you
But Sichon, king of Cheshbon, would not let us pass through his land, for the
Lord your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, in order that He
could deliver him into your hand as this day.
war of Sichon is described as the beginning of the conquest of the land. As we noted at the beginning of the
description in Devarim, the journey
southward had been planned in advance; it was not the result of ad-hoc
adjustments. And why was this
supposed to happen? Because Israel had to inherit the eastern side of the
Jordan, too! Let us examine the alternatives facing the nation as the leave
Kadesh, according to Devarim:
To move northward, in the direction of the mountains of the Negev this
would mean that they could not conquer the eastern side of the Jordan (the lands
of Sichon and Og)
An easterly movement via Edom prohibited, owing to the political rights
of the children of Edom over the land, given to them by God.
A southward movement and then a turn northward, from Mezer to the land of
Edom and Moav, leading up to the conquest of the Emori as was actually carried
it would have been possible to enter from the south, and to leave the conquest
of the eastern side of the Jordan for a later stage. The disadvantages of this course of
action would include, most prominently, the exclusion of Moshe from having any
part in the journey of conquest. If
Bnei Yisrael were to go up to the mountains of the Negev, Moshe would have to
remain behind. This requires the
clarification of a further point: if the conquest of the eastern side of the
Jordan is considered part of the inheritance of the land, then surely Moshe is
barred from participating in it, since he is forbidden from entering the land!
We shall elaborate on this further in the next shiur, but the crux of the answer may be
stated as follows: apparently, even though the eastern side of the Jordan is
given to Bnei Yisrael as an inheritance, the Torah does not describe its status
as being equal to that of the land to the west of the Jordan, which is referred
to throughout as "the land of Canaan." In other words, Bnei Yisrael's rights to
the eastern side of the Jordan parallel the rights of Ammon, Moav and Edom to
their lands of possession, but these are on a lower level than the right of Bnei
Yisrael to Eretz Canaan. We may
also say that the sanctity of the land that lies to the west of the Jordan is
fixed and permanent; it is not dependent on conquest and sanctification. The sanctity of the eastern bank, on the
other hand, is dependent on conquest and perhaps not only the conquest of this
territory, but the conquest of Eretz Canaan in its entirety (see Ramban on Bamidbar 32). Therefore, Moshe is able to take part in
its conquest, and this does not contradict the prohibition on him entering the
land. Still, we must ask even if
there is no prohibition, why is there any need for Moshe to lead the nation in
the conquest of any territory of inheritance at all, whatever its status may be?
Why are the reigns of leadership not handed over to Yehoshua already at this
stage? We shall leave this question open meantime for reflection; hopefully we
will return to it in one of the future shiurim.
Summary thus far relationship between the three
As we have seen, Bnei Yisrael's
journey on the eastern side of the Jordan is described in Parashat Chukkat as arising from
tactical necessities. According to
our parasha, the original plan had
not included this area; the intention had simply been to find the most
convenient and least dangerous route for entry into the land. First Moshe sent messengers to Edom in
order to investigate the possibility of access to the Jordan perhaps based on
the assumption that this would be an easier and safer passage, or out of concern
lest the memory of the spies' description of the giants dwelling in the
mountains of Chevron and the fortified cities there, or that the memory of the
burning defeat in battle against the Amalekites and Canaanites would make the
people reluctant to go up. When it
became clear that there was no possibility of passing through Edom without
engaging in a major battle, Bnei Yisrael journeyed around Atarim to Hor
Ha-har. Rashi, commenting on 21:1,
explains: "The way of Atarim [this is] the way of the Negev, which the spies
had followed, as it is written (Bamidbar 13:22), 'They went up through
the Negev.'" I believe that Rashi is proposing a very simple explanation for the
choice to head towards the mountains of the Negev (i.e., eastward or
north-eastward) once the Edomites had conveyed their refusal: Moshe was trying
to return to the original plan. In
other words, he wanted to investigate the possibility of going up via the
mountains of the Negev, as the spies had done previously. At this stage no decision had yet been
made to journey southward, around the land of Edom. However, the attempt to enter from the
south and move northward was met with the opposition of the Canaanites living in
those mountains, and their first encounter in battle had not gone well: "And
they took some of them prisoners." Bnei Yisrael then made a vow and God helped
them to achieve victory. However,
this momentary victory notwithstanding, Moshe apparently decided that entering
the land from the mountains of the Negev would be difficult and traumatic, and
that there would be growing opposition.
Therefore, he decided to adopt the round-about route from the east and
plan to enter the land from the north and head southward was abandoned as a
tactical decision after this possibility had been examined; it was not an
original change in plan. The
description in Parashat Masei does
not offer us enough information for us to understand its significance, but the
description in Devarim takes a
different view of the entire episode: Bnei Yisrael, as we have seen, intended
all along to journey on the eastern side of the Jordan, in order to conquer that
territory first before proceeding to the western side (Eretz Canaan). To the question of why this was not done
during the first journey (during the second year), we may answer: firstly, that
the original intention had been to make the journey as short as possible and
bring the nation to Eretz Canaan quickly.
A journey along the eastern side of the Jordan would prolong the journey
by several months. After forty
years of wandering, this extra time made less of a difference. Secondly, during the first journey Moshe
was still supposed to lead the nation into the land; by the time the second
journey was undertaken, he was prohibited from doing so, and therefore it was
significant that he be able to participate in the conquest of the eastern side
of the Jordan, before the rest of the nation entered Eretz Canaan.
2. According to the description in Bamidbar, the nations of the region had
no special rights to their lands, and the relations between them and Bnei
Yisrael were simply the result of tactical and political considerations. It was only the might of Edom and Ammon
that precluded their conquest, and there was no reason to provoke Ammon even
though they feared Bnei Yisrael, as described by Balak. According to the description in Devarim, the reason for avoiding any
provocation of Edom, Moav and Ammon was their God-given right to possess their
respective lands and perhaps also the friendly relations between them and Bnei
3. The conquest of the eastern side of the
Jordan, according to Parashat
Chukkat, was born of necessity: Bnei Yisrael had to reach the Jordan, and
this could be done only by crossing through the land of Sichon (since they were
fearful of Edom). From this
perspective, the conquest has no religious significance; it is a purely tactical
matter. Apparently, the conquest of
Og was a continuation of the same tactical move. In several places, the Torah refers to
Sichon and Og as two kings of the Emorites, binding them together. Og seems to have been the more senior
and the stronger of the two, and his kingdom was an ancient and powerful one:
"For only Og, king of the Bashan, was left of the remnant of Refaim; behold, his
bed is a bed of iron; is it not in Rabba of the children of Ammon." It appears
that a mutual defense pact existed between Og and Sichon, such that the conquest
of Sichon necessarily entailed a conflict with Og and his army. Going up via the Bashan represented a
sort of preventive war, meant to protect the northern part of Israel. The conquest in Devarim is described as a battle that
had been necessary from the outset, for the sake of territory that was part of
Bnei Yisrael's inheritance. We may
say that according to Bamidbar, Bnei
Yisrael conquered territory that lay outside of their land, in order to be able
to pass through and enter Eretz Canaan.
According to Devarim, the
conquest of Eretz Canaan began with the conquest of the eastern side of the
Jordan, a territory that was given to Bnei Yisrael as an inheritance the land
of Sichon and Og.
F. The death of Aharon
asked above why Aharon died here, at Hor Ha-har. It appears that this represented the
crossroads for the decision as to the direction of the journey. At Hor Ha-har, Bnei Yisrael reached the
closest point to Eretz Canaan prior, according to the order of the verses, to
the possibility of traveling via the way of Atarim being considered. Aharon, who had no role in the political
and military leadership of the nation, had to die here, since the next step
would be to enter the land from the mountains of the Negev, tracing the route of
the spies, and Aharon had been forbidden from entering:
Aharon shall be gathered to his people, for he shall not come to the land which
I have given to Bnei Yisrael, because you disobeyed Me at Mei Meriva (Badmibar 20).
represents further proof for our contention that at this stage Moshe still meant
to travel from the south northward, and that it was only after the battle
against the Canaanites that he made a tactical decision to circumvent the land
of Edom. Moshe needs to live a
little longer since, as we learn from Sefer Devarim, and as logic dictates, he
had to complete the nation's preparations, both tactical and spiritual. Afterwards, however, it became clear
that the route for entering the land would have to be made longer. From the point of view of Aharon's
function, this made no difference.
Parashat Masei, where Aharon's death
is described for the second time, another possibility is hinted at:
They journeyed from Kadesh and encamped at Hor Ha-har, at the edge of the land
And Aharon the kohen went up to Hor Ha-har, at God's command, and he died there
in the fortieth year of Bnei Yisrael's departure from the land of Egypt, in the
fifth month, on the first of the month.
And Aharon was a hundred and twenty-three years old when he died at Hor
the Torah emphasizes Aharon's age.
Miriam had died previously, at a very old age. Aharon remained alive - even though he
had passed the age of 120 so that he, as a leader of Bnei Yisrael and as
Moshe's partner in leading them out of Egypt, could take them all the way to
their land. His sin brought him
back within the reaches of a normal lifespan. His death at Hor Ha-har ensured that the
nation would part from him at the next place after Kadesh, so that his death
would not be bound up forever with the memory of his sin. The sin proved that he was no longer
worthy of leading the nation.
Hence, the "extra time" that had been granted to him was no longer
justified, and therefore Aharon died at Hor Ha-har, immediately after the
journey from Kadesh. Even if Moshe
had not intended to try to enter the land via the mountains of the Negev (and
indeed this intention is not stated explicitly in the description in Masei), Aharon could not have lived any
who has not yet lived a full hundred and twenty years, lives a little longer,
until he, too, passes on. According
to the Torah's description in Parashat
Vayelekh, Moshe, too, dies of old age, rather than because of his sin: "I am
a hundred and twenty years old this day; I can no longer go out and come in, and
God has said to me, You will not pass over this Jordan." The implies that the
reason for his death is his age, and perhaps also his unsuitability as a
military leader at this stage, but not his sin.
G. Significance of the difference between
the description of the journey in Bamidbar and the description in Devarim
would seem that the description in Bamidbar reflects, principally, a
national perspective, with the journey as a whole taking place in the shadow of
the sin of the spies, and with a desire to avoid repeating mistakes. The trauma of the episode of the spies
arises explicitly in Moshe's harsh reaction to the request submitted by the
tribes of Gad and Reuven that they be permitted to settle the eastern side of
the Jordan, but its shadow is felt all along. The failure of the spies arose from a
lack of faith in God, but its roots go back to the expectation of a miraculous
entry, with no regard for the actual conditions. Yehoshua and Kalev believe in God and
are certain of Israel's victory, but the nation is not sufficiently confident to
enter and face the children of the giants in their huge, fortified cities.
journey of the fortieth year is calculated to avoid repeating this mistake. Here, the entry will be careful and
tactically sound. Moshe seeks the
safest and most convenient route, and ends up choosing what he believes to be
"the seemingly long road that is actually the shortest." He proceeds carefully
and with restraint so as not to face the nation with a test that will be too
much for them. This point, too, may
be hinted at in Rashi's words about the "way of Atarim" "avoiding the way of
the 'tarim'" ('tarim' meaning the spies). Moshe understand that he must not repeat
the route of the spies.
Sefer Devarim, this route, undertaken
as a result of tactical necessities, assumes a new significance. This is a perspective that is central to
Sefer Devarim in its entirety (as we
shall see in the shiur on Parashat Devarim). From a distance in time, in the
summarizing narrative, it becomes clear that what had appeared to be a
collection of coincidences and ad hoc necessities happened because that was what
had to happen. The idea from the
outset had been for the eastern part side of the Jordan to be conquered as part
of the greater territory that rightfully belonged to Am Yisrael.
A further significance of the journey relates to the role of Moshe himself. In Sefer Devarim, Moshe presents his own
story. From the perspective that he
presents and which, ultimately, is part of God's Torah
he participates in the first part of the inheritance of the land! This is the
central reason for the journey passing through the eastern part of the Jordan:
not just because Moshe wants to fulfill, personally, the commandment of settling
the land, but because this creates a most significant connection between the
Exodus from Egypt and the conquest of the land. In the shiur on Parashat Shelach we discussed at length
how the sin of the spies divided the Torah into two separate stories: the story
of the Exodus from Egypt and the receiving of the Torah, on one hand, and the
story of the entry into the land, on the other. There is a fundamental chasm that
separates the miraculous, heavenly Exodus from Egypt from the earthly entry into
Eretz Canaan. The fact the Moshe
does not enter the land is the most profound expression of this chasm: the
person who is entrusted with leading the great process of leaving slavery for
freedom, establishing the nation of Israel, creating the covenant with God, and
entering the land, eventually remains outside of it. According to Sefer Devarim, this was perhaps the
primary objective of the conquest of the eastern side of the Jordan: Moshe
himself initiates the process of conquering the land. While it is true that most of the
conquest will be carried out by Yehoshua, his work will now be considered a
continuation. Through Moshe's
action the various elements of Israel's redemption freedom, nationalism, Torah
and covenant, and the land are brought together.
by Kaeren Fish