A Mountainous Miracle by Mosheh Kollmar


In Parashat Chukat, after being cured miraculously from a plague of snakes, B’nei Yisrael travel to Ovot, then from Ovot to a mountain pass in the desert near the land of Mo’av. From there they travel to Nachal Zered, and from Nachal Zered, they cross the Nachal Arnon and camp there. After describing the geography of Nachal Arnon, the Pesukim record (BeMidbar 21:14-16), “Al Kein Yei’ameir BeSefer Milchamot Hashem Et Vaheiv BeSufah VeEt HaNechalim Arnon: VeEshed HaNechalim Asher Natah LeShevet Ar VeNish’an LiGevul Mo’av: UMiSham Be’eirah Hi HaBe’eir Asher Amar Hashem LeMosheh Esof Et HaAm VeEtnah Lahem Mayim,” “Therefore, it is said in the book Milchamot Hashem, ‘The gift of reeds and the rivers of Arnon; the outpouring of the rivers when it veered to stay at Ar, and leaned against the border of Mo’av. And from there to the well – the well about which Hashem said to Mosheh ‘Gather the people and I will give them water.’” What is this praise doing here? It begins with the words Al Kein, therefore, implying that as a result, the book Milchamot Hashem records a song praising Hashem. Because B’nei Yisrael traveled to Ovot, to the desert of Mo’av, to Nachal Zered, and to Nachal Arnon, there is a song praising Hashem. Clearly, something happened at one of these stops that the Pasuk does not describe, unless there is a song about every journey that the Pasuk withholds. What is the Torah choosing not to tell us?

 If one looks at the beginning of this song, it mentions a gift of reeds. Several Mefarshim (commentaries), such as Rashi and Onkelos, understand this gift of reeds to refer to the Yam Suf, where Keri’at Yam Suf, one of the greatest miracles detailed in the Chumash, occurred. From here, it can be inferred that some great miracle must have happened at Nachal Arnon, because after mentioning this gift of reeds, it mentions Nachal Arnon. If such a great miracle occurred, why is nothing mentioned?

The Mei’am Lo'eiz and Ramban state that no miracle happened at Nachal Arnon at all; rather, as B’nei Yisrael prepared for battle against the giants Sichon and Og, the Torah lists what the two giants had conquered. This opinion does not sit well with most Mefarshim, and in fact, the Mei’am Lo'eiz cites another opinion that he appears to regard as far superior. This alternate explanation tells of a great miracle that occurred at Nachal Arnon.

Proof that a great miracle occurred at Nachal Arnon emerges from the Gemara (Brachot 54a-54b), which states that one who sees the place where B’nei Yisrael crossed the Yam Suf, the Jordan River, the Nachal Arnon, or one of several other locations of great miracles, he must recite a Berachah thanking Hashem for what occurred there. The Gemara asks how we know a miracle happened at Nachal Arnon, and answers with the Pasuk in Parashat Chukat, which states “Al Kein Yei’ameir…” A Beraita translates “Et Vaheiv Bisufa” completely differently from the translation above: Et and Heiv were two people who had Tzara’at and were walking behind the camp. As B’nei Yisrael prepared to pass through the narrow Arnon River Valley, many Emorim hid themselves in the cliffs surrounding the valley to ambush B’nei Yisrael. Before B’nei Yisrael passed through, the cliffs crashed into each other, killing the ambushers. B’nei Yisrael did not know anyone was killed when the cliffs collided, because as they journeyed, the Ananei HaKavod and the Aron would smooth out the land in front of B’nei Yisrael, so collisions of cliffs became commonplace. The blood of the slain Emorim flowed down the Arnon River, and was seen by Et and Heiv, who told the rest of B’nei Yisrael. If such a great miracle happened, why is the miracle itself not recorded, only the song of praise?

The Sefat Emet answers that when Mosheh Rabbeinu wrote the Torah, he included only the miracles that were Nissim Geluyim, open miracles. This miracle at Nachal Arnon was clearly a Neis Nistar, hidden miracle, because B’nei Yisrael did not even know about it, and would never have known about it if not for Et and Heiv, the two Metzora’im behind the camp.

Despite this being a Neis Nistar, B’nei Yisrael immediately praised Hashem when they found out. In our lives, we see many Nissim Nistarim, and instead of praising Hashem about each one, we attribute it to nature and give it no second thought. Instead, we should learn a lesson from B’nei Yisrael, and praise Hashem for a Neis Nigleh and Neis Nistar alike.

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