“I see humanity now as one vast plant, needing for its highest fulfillment only love, the natural blessings of the great outdoors, and intelligent crossing and selection.”
Today my Places in Your Neighborhood tour took me to guide at one of my favorite sites – Qesr al-Yehud on the Jordan. I have been fascinated by this place ever since my first visit as part of the tour guide course. During that time, the site was closed to the general public, and only with consultation with the army, could a group enter. As you drive along the road which leads you to the site, an eerie combination of run-down Christian compounds and barbed-wire fences warning of mine fields accompanies you on both sides. As you approach the site, in the near distance you can see brand new churches, their gold domes and spires glistening.
But it isn’t the modern military history or the site’s place in the Christian mythos that attracts me to Qesr al-Yehud. What draws me here over and over again is the ability to access the Jordan, and the thought that very near to this spot, the Children of Israel crossed into the Land of Israel and started their journey to nationhood.
Today, we reached Qesr al-Yehud after exploring part of Nahal Prat and beginning an encounter with wilderness and water. The soothing noise of the Jordan flowing by their feet started lulling some people into a short snooze. I started to tell the story of the Children of Israel crossing the Jordan, when David O. asked how I could be sure that this was the spot. I explained about how this is one of the natural places along the Jordan where it is easier to cross and so it makes sense that they would have chosen this location. But, he countered, the crossing of the Jordan was miraculous, so wouldn’t it have been even more of a miracle to stand somewhere where it wasn’t so easy to cross? Maybe somewhere randomly along the Jordan?
I heard his argument. G-d did magnify the miracles performed during the exodus from Egypt to prove his might in front of the world and the Jewish people. Interesting point. But something didn’t sit right. Whether Qesr means Castle or Breaking through, this site is connected to the Jewish people (al-Yehud). The Eshtorei HaParchi who was one of the early travelers to Israel in the Medieval period, tells us that the probably the most
accurate factor in determining the location of a Biblical place is the current Arabic name, so there must be some Jewish connection preserved here throughout the ages. Why not the crossing?
As we continued on our visit to the site, David O. just would not let it rest. He kept after me for evidence that this was the site of the crossing. Maybe some pottery shards, some ancient buildings marking the spot? I explained that there would not have been much material culture from a nomadic people. But he still didn’t let it rest.
In case you think I am complaining, let me assure you, I am not. These challenges push me to think deeper, research more, and put things in order. This is one of the experiences which makes me happy to be a tour educator and not just a tour guide. I don’t have all the answers and thrive on input from others. If people don’t let up, then I know they are engaging with the subject matter, and that is a total win for me.
And then, after another comeback, it hit me. Something which made sense of my intuitions; something more concrete.
Maybe we were looking at the story from the wrong angle? Maybe the perspective of 3500 years of history had colored our view of the events?
I asked David O. to put himself in the position of Joshua. He had just taken over from the greatest leader/prophet of all time, Moses. Joshua needed to complete a task – lead the children of Israel over the Jordan and into Israel. How was this going to happen? At the beginning, the mechanics were not clear. It was not clear to Joshua that the people would merit a miraculous crossing; it is not even on his radar scope as a possibility. So, Joshua takes the people to a place where it would make sense to cross, Qesr al-Yehud. Only after he arrives there and sets up camp for a week or so is Joshua let in on G-d’s plan to bring the Children of Israel over the Jordan in a miraculous fashion.
It isn’t that Joshua doesn’t have faith in G-d, it is just that he is making a sensible plan. It is Joshua’s Intelligent Crossing here at Qesr al-Yehud and G-d’s Selection of the Jewish people which forged the nation . And while I am still not sure that David O. is convinced, I think that both he and I learned something today. Fabulous!