Background to the Third Perek (Chapter) of Yehoshua
Following three days of preparation, the officers informed the people that when they see the ארון (Ark) being carried by the kohanim, it will be time to begin moving, and they are to follow the ארון (Ark) at a distance of two thousand cubits. Yehoshua bid the entire nation to approach him, in order to hear God’s word. Yehoshua then told the people that through the wonders that God will perform for them, Am Yisrael (the Nation of Israel) will know that God is among them and that He will drive the seven Canaanite nations out of the Land. As the feet of the kohanim carrying the ארון (Ark) dipped into the water of the River Jordan, the water which flowed from above (from the north) stood as a wall, while the water which had already flowed past continued flowing into the Dead Sea, allowing the people to cross on dry land, opposite Jericho while the kohanim stayed in place.
The Great Miracle: the Entire Nation Stood Within the Width of the Poles of the ארון (Ark)
“וַיֹּ֥אמֶר יְהוֹשֻׁ֖עַ אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל גֹּ֣שׁוּ הֵ֔נָּה וְשִׁמְע֕וּ אֶת־דִּבְרֵ֖י יְקֹוָ֥ק אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶֽם: וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יְהוֹשֻׁ֔עַ בְּזֹאת֙ תֵּֽדְע֔וּן כִּ֛י אֵ֥ל חַ֖י בְּקִרְבְּכֶ֑ם וְהוֹרֵ֣שׁ יוֹרִ֣ישׁ מִ֠פְּנֵיכֶם אֶת־הַכְּנַעֲנִ֨י וְאֶת־הַחִתִּ֜י וְאֶת־הַחִוִּ֗י וְאֶת־הַפְּרִזִּי֙ וְאֶת־הַגִּרְגָּשִׁ֔י וְהָאֱמֹרִ֖י וְהַיְבוּסִֽי:”
And Yehoshua said to the children of Israel, “Come here (heina), and hear the words of the Lord your God.” And Yehoshua said, “By this you shall know that the living God is in your midst, and He will certainly drive out the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Hivites, and the Perizzites and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Jebusites from before you.”
Rashi quotes Chazals’ (our Sages’) comment:
“גשו הנה” – “צמצם את כולם בין שני בדי ארון, זה אחד מן המקומות שהחזיק המעט את המרובה”
Yehoshua restricted the entire people between the poles of the ארון (Ark); this is one of the places where a small area holds a multitude.
[Midrash vaYikra Rabba 10:9]
Apparently, the word “heina” is superfluous, and its insertion into the verse brought the Sages of the Midrash to understand that Yehoshua’s instructions were to approach a very specific place, namely the space between the poles which were used to carry the ארון (Ark).
We must understand what this great miracle expresses. What was the necessary to add another miracle to the miracle of Am Yisrael’s crossing the Jordan?
Unity of Am Yisrael: the Pre-Condition for Receiving the Land of Israel
Am Yisrael received the Torah after achieving unity, as the posuk (verse) states: “ויחן שם ישראל נגד ההר” (“And Israel encamped there opposite the mountain …”) [Shemot (Exodus) 19:2]. Rashi notes that the verb “encamped” is in the singular; and comments “כאיש אחד בלב אחד” (“As a single person, with a single heart”). The Torah was not given to individuals among the nation, but to the collective nation who are united as a single body with a single heart. It is for this reason that we conclude the amida with the request: “ברכנו אבינו כולנו כאחד באור פניך כי באור פניך נתת לנו תורת חיים” (“Bless us, our Father, all as one with the light of Your countenance, for by the light of Your countenance You have given us the Torah of life…”).
As well, Am Yisrael’s success in conquering the Land and in being established within her depend upon the unity of Am Yisrael, since the Collective Israel (Klal Yisrael) received the Land by virtue of its unique connection to God, and all members of the collective are “sons of the living God” [Hosea 2:1]. This is conveyed in the blessing recited before the morning Kriat Shema: “אור חדש על ציון תאיר ונזכה כולנו יחד במהרה לאורו” (“May You make a new light shine over Zion and may we all together soon be worthy of its light”).
Thus, the special miracle preceding Israel’s entry into its Land expresses the idea that the nation’s success in its Land depends upon its unity, a unity so great that the entire nation, as it were, is able to stand between the poles of the ארון (Ark).
Chazal (Our Sages) present an example of the dependence of Am Yisrael’s success upon national unity. In the generation of King David, though the people were righteous, casualties were suffered in war because there were those who spoke lashon hara, which harms national unity, while in contrast, during the time of the King Ahab of Israel (the northern kingdom), though the people were idolaters, they suffered no fatalities in war because they did not speak lashon hara. [Bemidbar Rabba 19:2]
Tosafot [Sota 34a] cite the comment of the Jerusalem Talmud [Sota 7:5] that the Israelites accepted mutual responsibility for each other while still on the eastern bank of the Jordan, while awaiting entry to the Promised Land. The mutual responsibility of Am Yisrael reflects the concept that the entire nation is a single soul, and therefore any Israelite who sins has an impact on all Israelites, just as an injury to a single limb harms the entire body, as Maharal writes:
“כל ישראל ערבין זה בשביל זה בשביל שהם עם אחד, מה שלא תמצא בשום אומה שאינה עם אחד כמו שהם ישראל, ודומין לאדם שאם יש לו מכה באחד מאיבריו שכולם מרגישים בעבור שהם גוף אחד”.
All Israel have a mutual responsibility for each other, which is not found in any other nation, which is not a united nation in the same sense as Israel; Israelites are similar to a person who suffers a blow to one organ, which is felt by all organs.
[נתיבות עולם ב’ נתיב התוכחה פרק ב]
Am Yisrael’s mutual responsibility commenced as the nation entered its Land, for this is the manner in which they will succeed in conquering and settling the Land.
Am Yisrael’s Presence within the Land is Supernatural as was the Presence of the ארון (Ark) in the Holy of Holies
The miracle of independence from the limitations of space was an ongoing miracle for the ארון (Ark) of the Covenant. The Gemara (Talmud) states: “It is a matter of tradition from our ancestors: The place of the ארון (Ark) is not included in the measurements of the Holy of Holies.” The dimensions of the Holy of Holies were twenty cubits by twenty cubits, and there were ten cubits of space on either side of the ארון (Ark). Therefore, it was only through a miracle that the ארון (Ark) fit into the Holy of Holies. [Yoma 21a] The meaning of the Talmudic comment is this: the ארון (Ark) is the place where the Shechina rests within the world, and where the Shechina is manifest there are no restrictions of nature. Chazal teach that wherever ten Jews are gathered, the Shechina is present [Gemara Berachot 6a].
Upon entering the Land, Am Yisrael needed to learn that making the Shechina manifest and consolidating the national foothold within the Land are dependent upon national unity. Thus, God provided a miracle which actively demonstrated this point to His nation.
In our days as well, having been privileged to have the nation return to the Land, national unity will bring the manifestation of the Shechina within our Land and our success in settling her.