My experience with Israeli driving suggests that the concept of ‘safe following distance’ is not one that receives much emphasis in driving schools here. Where I studied, my driving instructor frequently explained that if you drive too close to the car you’re following, any accident it suffers will seriously affect you as well.
What’s true about following cars is also true about following leaders. When critical distance is not maintained between leaders and their followers, the leader’s failure will spell spiritual disaster for their followers as well.
The crossing of the Jordan does not only signify a geographical change for the Jewish people. It also signifies a fundamental change in their relationship with God. Until now, God’s word was received with almost no human interference, and God led the people directly with miraculous pillars of fire and cloud. But whereas Moshe communicated “face-to-face” with God, all prophets after Moshe see visions of God only through an ‘unclear looking glass’, ‘aspaklaria she’eina me’irah’ in Kabbalistic terms. God’s leadership is more thickly mediated by humans. This is why, explains the Ralbag, instead of being led by the cloud or the fire, the Jewish people are instructed to follow the Ark carried by the Kohanim.
But if they want to be able to follow this new path, a path of greater human responsibility, and less direct divine intervention, it demands a safe following distance. “But a distance of two thousand amot must be between you and it, do not approach it” (Yehoshua 3:4). Two thousand amot is the amount that a city’s jurisdiction radiates outside of its walls. Demanding this distance suggests being as far as you can possibly be, while still being “within the camp”. The new dimensions of human responsibility and independence which the transition to life in the land of Israel offer are not only for the leadership. They are for the people as well.
This is a blog of my reflections on the daily 929 chapter of Tanach. Learn more about 929 at 929.org.il.