The Miracle at Arnon

  • Harav Yaakov Medan
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Student Summaries of Sichot of the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion


RAV SOLOVEITCHIK’s Reflections on the Tishah BeAv Kinot

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The Miracle at Arnon

Adapted by Yoni Weitz

Translated by Kaeren Fish


“From there they journeyed and encamped at the side of Arnon, which is in the wilderness that emerges from the border of the Emori, for Arnon is the border of Moav, between Moav and the Emori. Therefore it is said in the Book of the Wars of God: ‘Vahev in Sufa and the wadis of Arnon, and the stream of the wadis that goes down to the dwelling of Ar and lies upon the border of Moav.’ And from there [they went] to Be’er; that is the well of which God said to Moshe, ‘Gather the people and I shall give them water.’ Then Israel sang this song: ‘Arise, O well, sing to it…’ ” (Bamidbar 21:12-17)

Chazal interpret these words not merely as a description of a station somewhere during the course of Bnei Yisrael’s travels, but as the story of the blood-drenched demise of Israel’s enemies. According to Chazal (cited by Rashi here), these enemies lay in wait around the cliffs and crannies on the sides of the deep canyon of Wadi Arnon, through which the nation were supposed to pass. While Bnei Yisrael encamped, a miracle happened: the mountains on the two sides of the canyon came together, crushing the enemies waiting in ambush. Their corpses rose and floated in the well, and therefore the Song of the Well was uttered.

The obvious question that arises from this remarkable story and its happy ending, is: where in the text is there the slightest hint to support this description of what took place?

A review of the songs of Israel in Tanakh shows that the nation sang only in commemoration of victory over their enemies. Examples include the Song of the Sea and the Song of Devora. There are also other texts which are regarded as “songs” even though they do not appear that way: such instances include the list of the thirty-one kings defeated by Yehoshua and the list of Haman’s ten sons. The manner of writing in these instances testifies that they are “songs,” and these, too, commemorate victory over Israel’s enemies. Hence, Chazal deduce that here, too, Israel offer song in the wake of a victory over their enemies.

Closer inspection of the verses reveals that there are, in fact, further linguistic hints to these events. Firstly, there is the obvious “therefore it is said in the Book of the Wars of God…” Then, there are the words “et vahev be-sufa”; Rashi proposes the reading, “et yahav sufa” – “God brought [miracles as] at Yam Suf (the Sea of Reeds).” Likewise, “the stream of the wadis that goes down” hints at the flow of the wadi being directed in such a way as to produce a strong downward current. In other words, the enemies are drowned in the sudden, mighty surges of water, and their corpses are found floating in the well. Bearing in mind that all of this takes place in the burning, dry summer (immediately following the death of Aharon at Hor ha-Har, which is in the month of Av), the entire episode is unquestionably of a miraculous nature.

A related narrative appears in II Melakhim (chapter 3):

“The king of Israel went, and the king of Yehuda and the king of Aram, and they made a circuit of seven days’ journey, and there was no water for the camp… And Elisha said… ‘So says God: Make this wadi full of trenches. For so says God: You will see no wind, nor will you see rain, yet this wadi will be filled with water, that you may drink…’ and all of Moav heard that the kings had come up to fight with them… and they arose early in the morning, and the sun shone upon the water, and Moav saw the water on the other side as red as blood, and they said: ‘This is blood; the kings have smitten one another by the sword…’”

Here too, as in our parasha, two purposes are achieved by means of the water.  It quenches thirst, following a period of acute shortage, and it plays a critical role in the war: because of the sun reflecting in the water, Moav believed that they were seeing flowing blood, testifying to a collapse of the alliance between the kings.  They believed that the water was the blood of the soldiers of Israel, Yehuda and Edom who were killing each other. This led Moav to a premature sense of confidence, such that they did not exercise the proper caution in approaching the battle. The victory of Sisera’s army was likewise achieved with the aid of water – “Wadi Kishon swept them away…” The same image arises, of course, in connection with the Splitting of the Reed Sea.

It is therefore altogether in keeping with an established pattern that Chazal offer their interpretation in our parasha.  May we, too, merit divine aid to defeat our enemies.

(This sicha was delivered by Rav Medan while on a visit to students serving in the IDF in 5752 [1992].)