Lecture 50: The Conquest of Eretz Yisrael (Part II)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy




Lecture 50: THe conquest of Eretz Yisrael (Part II)


Rav Yitzchak Levi



            In the previous lecture, we began to discuss the history of the resting of the Shekhina from the beginning of the conquest of Eretz Yisrael.  We dealt with the differences between Bnei Yisrael's journey in the wilderness and their journey in Eretz Yisrael and with the role that the ark played in the camp.  In this lecture, we will continue to discuss Bnei Yisrael's conquest of Eretz Yisrael.


5) The transition from Arvot Mo'av to the crossing of the Jordan


            Following the death of Moshe, God's words to Yehoshua, and the sending of the spies, Scripture states:


And Yehoshua rose early in the morning; and they removed from Shittim, and spent the night there before they passed over.  (Yehoshua 3:1)


            Attention should be paid to the fact that something unique takes place in this verse.  Bnei Yisrael set forth without any Divine guidance.  On the one hand, there is no cloud to lead them, as there had been before the death of Moshe; on the other hand, the ark will only begin to lead Bnei Yisrael after they have crossed the Jordan.


            Rav Remer explains this in an interesting manner:[1]


From Shittim until the place where they camped on the eve of their crossing the Jordan, they advanced in a natural manner and without any guidance.  Leaving galut and its sin was something that they had to do with their own natural powers, but in order to enter Eretz Yisrael they had to accept guidance from a higher source.  As long as they had not yet entered the Land, it was necessary to maintain a distance of two thousand cubits.  It was only with the entry into the Land that they drew near to the ark and closed the distance between them and it.  The covenant turned into nature and they knew "that God lives among us."


6) The parallel between the giving of the Torah and the giving of the Land.[2]


            It is interesting to note the parallels between the giving of the Torah and the giving of the Land.  The similarities between them include the following:


The time of arrival – regarding Bnei Yisrael's arrival at Mount Sinai, it says:


In the third month after Bnei Yisrael left the land of Egypt, the same day they came into the wilderness of Sinai.  For they were departed from Refidim, and came to the desert of Sinai, and had pitched in the wilderness; and there Yisrael camped before the mountain.  (Shemot 19:1-2)


            The verse seems to be referring to Rosh Chodesh, and so Bnei Yisrael arrived at Mount Sinai on Rosh Chodesh Sivan in the first year of their exodus from Egypt.


            Parallel to this, the original plan seems to have been that Bnei Yisrael were supposed to arrive in Kadesh-Barne'a, the southern gate of the land of Cana'an, on the same day one year later.


And it came to pass on the twentieth day of the second month, in the second year, that the cloud was taken up from off the Tabernacle of the Testimony.  And Bnei Yisrael took their journeys out of the wilderness of Sinai; and the cloud rested in the wilderness of Paran.  And they first took their journey according to the commandment of the Lord by the hand of Moshe.  (Bamidbar 10:11-13)


            If we join this datum to the verse in Devarim:


It is eleven days' journey from Chorev by the way of Mount Seir to Kadesh Barne'a (Devarim 1:2)  


it turns out that Bnei Yisrael were supposed to reach the gate of the land of Cana'an, Kadesh-Barne'a, on Rosh Chodesh Sivan of the second year, exactly a year after they stood at the foot of Mount Sinai.


The splitting of the Yam Suf and of the Jordan River the way that Bnei Yisrael left Egypt parallels the way they entered Eretz Yisrael.  The splitting of the waters of the Jordan corresponds to the splitting of the Yam Suf, in the nature of the event, in its description, and in its psychological ramifications.


And it came to pass, when all the kings of the Emori, who were on the side of the Jordan westward, and all the kings of the Cana'ani, who were by the sea, heard that the Lord had dried up the waters of the Jordan from before Bnei Yisrael until they were passed over, that their heart melted, neither was there spirit in them any more, because of Bnei Yisrael.  (Yehoshua 5:1)


            This parallelism is also explicit in Tehillim 114, in a verse that draws a connection between the two events: "The sea saw it, and fled; the Jordan was driven back," with the psalm's heading reading as follows: "When Yisrael went out of Egypt."


Circumcision – The circumcision that Bnei Yisrael underwent in Givat Ha-Aralot in Gilgal before they entered the Land was an essential element of their leaving the wilderness.  This was a sort of renewed exodus from Egypt, which involved a cutting off from Egypt.  This connection is made explicit in the verses in Yehoshua:


Now all the people that came out were circumcised, but all the people that were born in the wilderness by the way as they came out of Egypt, them they had not circumcised… And the Lord said to Yehoshua, "This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you." (Yehoshua 5:5)


            This parallels the circumcision that preceded the exodus from Egypt.[3]


Pesachthe paschal offering that Yisrael offered in the plains of Jericho, the Pesach of Gilgal, prior to their receiving the Land clearly parallels the paschal offering that preceded the exodus from Egypt.


            In light of these parallelisms, the exodus from Egypt seems to serve as a starting point for a two-fold process: the giving of the Torah, on the one hand, and the giving of Eretz Yisrael, on the other.  Both of them may be regarded as the objectives of the exodus from Egypt.


            Following the crossing of the Jordan, a number of events are recorded in the book of Yehoshua.  The order of events mentioned in chapter 5 includes circumcision, the paschal offering, the appearance of the angel, and the capture of Jericho.  A number of details concerning these events bring to mind similar events that took place at the time of the giving of the Torah:


·                An angel of the Lord appeared to Moshe, just as the captain of the host of the Lord appeared to Yehoshua.


·                The expressions used in Yehoshua's encounter with the angel and in Moshe's first encounter with God at Mount Sinai are very similar.  Moshe is told, "Put off your shoes from off your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground" (Shemot 3:5), while Yehoshua is told, "Put off your shoe from off your foot; for the place in which you stand is holy" (Yehoshua 5:15).


 ·                      At the giving of the Torah, it is stated: "There were thunders and lightings, and a thick cloud upon the mountain, and the sound of a shofar exceedingly loud; so that all the people in the camp trembled" (Shemot 19:16).  The blowing of the shofar constitutes a proclamation regarding the imminent revelation of God to give the Torah to His people.  As long as the Shekhina remains on the mountain, man is not allowed approach it.  Bnei Yisrael are warned: "Take heed to yourselves, that you go not up into the mountain or touch the border of it; whoever touches the mountain shall be surely put to death.  No hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned, or shot through; whether it be beast or man, it shall not live.  When the horn sounds long, they shall come up to the mountain" (Shemot 19:12-13). 


The shofar heralds both the appearance of the Shekhina and as its removal.


A similar and parallel account is given in connection with Jericho, the substance of which is the conquest and distribution of the land among Bnei Yisrael.  Whatever happens after Jericho in the wars of conquest is merely an actualization of that first stand in Jericho, with the appearance of the Shekhina there:


And you shall go round the city, all the men of war, going about the city once.  Thus shall you do six days.  And seven priests shall bear before the ark seven shofars of rams' horns.  And on the seventh day you shall compass the city seven times, and the priests shall blow with the shofars.  And it shall come to pass that when they make a long blast with the ram's horn, when you hear the sound of the shofar, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city shall fall down flat, and the people shall go up every man straight before him.  (Yehoshua 6:3-5)


            In both their substance and in their style, these verses parallel what is stated about the revelation at Mount Sinai.  The same is true regarding the relationship between the first six days and the seventh day: "And the glory of the Lord rested upon Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day, He called to Moshe out of the midst of the cloud" (Shemot 24:15).


            As for the meaning of this correspondence, both stories describe the appearance and descent of the Shekhina.  One of the meanings of the descent of the Shekhina is judgment –judgment of Yisrael and judgment of the land of Cana'an and its inhabitants.  The ark of God that circles the city and the blowing of the shofars before the ark proclaim that "the Lord most high is terrible; He is a great King over all the earth… God sits upon the throne of His holiness." (Tehillim 47:3,9).


            According to this, "Jericho was closely shut up" – the site of the Shekhina was beyond the pale for Yisrael, just like "set bounds about the mountain, and sanctify it" (Shemot 19:23) at the revelation at Mount Sinai.  The sounding of the horn signified the end of the appearance of the Shekhina; the judgment of the nations was concluded, a resolute verdict was issued, and God removed the land of Cana'an from the nations who lived therein and gave it to Bnei Yisrael.


            Yisrael was now obligated to go up and enter the Land, and everything that happened later was merely an actualization of the verdict given at Jericho.


7) Jericho's special standing


a) The conquest of the city


The conquest of Jericho was a miraculous conquest in all respects.  While it is true that spies scouted out the city prior to its capture, before the actual conquest God says to Yehoshua: "And the Lord said to Yehoshua, 'See, I have given into your hand Jericho, and its king, all the men of war'" (Yehoshua 6:2).  This is immediately followed by God's detailed description of the practical steps that will allow the city's capture.


The means mentioned here do not include any weapons or tools of war.  Priests carrying shofars before the ark are to lead the circling of the city.  On the seventh day, they are to encircle the city seven times, and with the blowing of the horn, the entire people are to shout with a great shout, and then the walls of the city will fall and the people will go up to the city.


Despite the general transition from miraculous governance in the wilderness - with the manna, the cloud, and the well, and Moshe leading Bnei Yisrael - to natural governance with Yehoshua standing at the helm, the capture of the first city in Eretz Yisrael is a miraculous conquest.  As stated above, this was in order to clarify once again to Bnei Yisrael that everything that would happen from then on regarding the conquest of the Land would also be controlled by God's providence.


b) Jericho – ban


Yehoshua placed a ban on Jericho on his own initiative, and not by Divine command.  At the eastern gate to Eretz Yisrael, Yehoshua decides, in the wake of the miraculous conquest, to set aside the city to God.  In this way, he declares that it was God who captured the place and the city therefore belongs to Him, and no man may derive benefit from it.  Just as man has no real part in the conquest, but merely carries out the will of God, he similarly has no part in the city after its conquest and it is totally dedicated to God.


In a certain sense, the ban placed on Jericho testifies about all of Eretz Yisrael, which belongs to God and which is conquered by Him, and in this way it constitutes the "teruma" of Eretz Yisrael (the Ra'avad's formulation in his commentary to Tamid, chapter 3).  In other words, Jericho itself is holy, but it testifies that all of Eretz Yisrael is holy, and it is given, as it were, as teruma to God in order that it be possible to use and benefit from the rest of Eretz Yisrael.


c) The connection between Jericho and the Mikdash[4]


            The Sifrei states:


When Yisrael divided up the land, they left out the fat pasture land of Jericho, five hundred cubits by five hundred cubits.  They said: Whoever builds the permanent Temple in his portion will receive the fat pasture land of Jericho.  At first they gave it to Yonadav the son of Rachav, and they ate from it for four hundred and forty years… When the Shekhina rested in the portion of Binyamin, the sons of Binyamin came to take their portion; they came and vacated them.  (Sifrei Beha'alotekha 10:32)


            The midrash implies that there is a direct connection between Jericho and the site of the Temple.  The midrash describes a situation in which it was not yet known in which portion the Mikdash would be built.  Already upon their entry into Eretz Yisrael, when it became known to the people that there would be a place upon which the Mikdash would be built (which Chazal determined as being five hundred by five hundred cubits), a connection was created between Jericho and the site of the Mikdash, the one in place of the other.


            Another connection between Jericho and the Mikdash arises from a mishna in tractate Tamid:


From Jericho they could hear the sound of the great gate being opened.  From Jericho they could hear the sound of the magrefa.  From Jericho they could hear the sound of the wood that Ben Katin made into wheelwork for the wash-basin… From Jericho they could hear the sound of the shofar.  And some say they could even hear the voice of the High Priest when he uttered the [Divine] name on Yom Kippur.  From Jericho they could smell the burning incense… (Tamid 3:8)


            The fact that people in Jericho could hear the various activities being conducted in the Temple means, as it were, that the Mikdash and its activities impact as far as Jericho.  As was noted above, Jericho sometimes signifies all of Eretz Yisrael, and if this is the case here, this mishna gives expression to the deep connection between the Mikdash and Eretz Yisrael.


            The Ra'avad in his commentary to the mishna in Tamid sharpens the meaning of the connection between Jericho and the Mikdash:


And my teacher, the pious one, of blessed memory, said: All these things about which it is stated that they were heard in Jericho, for it was the beginning of the conquest of Eretz Yisrael.  And just as teruma must be taken from grain, so teruma was removed from Eretz Yisrael itself.  And for this reason, Yehoshua set it aside as sanctified.  Therefore, it is like Jerusalem, and all the things mentioned in the mishna were heard there so that people in Jericho would feel that it has a little sanctity like Jerusalem.  And therefore these things [were heard] more than other things, because all these things – the sound of the great gate… are all the beginnings of service that set the priests at their service and the Levites at their singing.  Also the incense is the beginning of the service inside the sanctuary, and it suffices with these.


            The Ra'avad likens the sanctity of Jericho to the sanctity of Jerusalem.  It is not by chance that the gemara in Ta'anit notes that twelve of the twenty-four mishmarot found in all of Eretz Yisrael were located in Jericho:


Our Rabbis taught: There were twenty-four mishmarot in Eretz Yisrael, twelve of them in Jericho.  When the time arrived for a mishmar to go up [to Jerusalem], half of the mishmar would go up from Eretz Yisrael to Jerusalem, and half of them would go up to Jericho in order to provide water and food to their brothers in Jerusalem.  (Ta'anit 27a)


            Following the ban that he imposes, Yehoshua also institutes a prohibition to rebuild the city: "And Yehoshua charged them at that time to an oath, saying, 'Cursed be the man before the Lord, that rises up to build this city Jericho; he shall lay its foundation with his firstborn, and with his youngest son shall he set up the gates of it'" (Yehoshua 6:26).  This prohibition turns Jericho into a city belonging to God, something that has meaning for all generations and not just for Yehoshua's generation.  As soon as there is a prohibition for all generations to rebuild the city, the city testifies to its Divine conquest and to its belonging to God for all generations.




            In the last two lectures, we examined several aspects of the conquest of Eretz Yisrael.  In the next lecture, we will consider the stations of the Mishkan in Eretz Yisrael.


(Translated by David Strauss)

[1] Rav Avraham Remer, "Me-Avur Ha-Aretz," Sefer Yehoshua (Jerusalem, Tevet 5755), 37.

[2] In this section, I follow my revered teacher, Rav Yoel Bin-Nun, in his article, "Chametz U-Matza Be-Pesach, Bi-Shevu'ot U-Be-Korbanot Ha-Lechem," Megadim 13 (Adar 5751), Tevunot, Alon Shevut, pp.  40-44.

[3] It is important to note that the verse in Yehoshua mentions that Bnei Yisrael underwent circumcision prior to the exodus from Egypt.  There is, however, no explicit mention of this in the Torah.  On the other hand, the Torah assumes as self-evident that the Pesach offering can only be eaten by one who is circumcised.  It seems to be clear that all of Yisrael were circumcised before they left Egypt, but it is impossible to determine from Scripture whether this resulted from a mass circumcision that took place prior to the exodus or to individual acts of circumcision.

[4] The sources brought here are fundamental sources that are also cited by Rav Yigal Alon in his Oz Va-Anava (Chispin, 1995), 64-65.