Where in Moav did B’nai Yisrael camp?

Photo Courtesy Yehuda Halickman

Parshat Balak is named for the first verse in the Parsha (Bamidbar 22:2): “And Balak the son of Tzipor saw all that Yisrael did to the Emori.”

However, if you want to know where it all took place, you have to go back one verse, to Bamidbar 22:1 (the last verse of Parshat Chukat): “B’nai Yisrael travelled and camped in the western plains of Moav, across the Jordan from Jericho.” This is the spot where they will remain until the Book of Yehoshua when B’nai Yisrael will cross the Jordan River into Jericho.

Rashbam describes the location of “me’ever l’Yareden Yericho”, across the Jordan from Jericho :

They were camped across from the Jordan River and opposite the City of Jericho which was on the other bank of the river. It is neither south nor north of Jericho. The formulation of “me’ever l’Yareden” is justified as it is perceived from the vantage point of those who had already crossed the Jordan River, so that the Jordan River was on the far side of Jericho from their point of view.

In other words, the Torah was written for those who are already in the Land of Israel. Therefore, “Ever l’Yarden” refers to the other side of the Jordan, outside of Israel, in the land that originally belonged to Moav.

How was it possible for all of B’nai Yisrael to be camped out in that spot?

Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, the Netziv in Ha’Amek Davar explains that the camp itself was in the western plains of Moav. However, B’nai Yisrael were spread out in the different cities in the lands of Sichon and Og and only the Aron (Ark) and Ohel Moed (the Tent of Meeting) were actually in the western plains of Moav as we see in the beginning of the Book of Devarim.

In Parshat Masei, Bamidbar 33:48-49 we read about the area where they camped:

They journeyed from the Avarim Mountains and camped in the plains of Moav along the Jordan near Jericho. They camped along the Jordan from Beit HaYeshimot until Avel HaSheetim, in the plains of Moav.

Beit HaYeshimot is the southern border of the territory (right above the Dead Sea) and Avel HaSheetim is the northern border.

Rashi explains that the measure of the Israelite camp was 12 mil by 12 mil, one mil is 2000 amot, about 3500 feet.

In the Talmud, Eruvin 55b, Rabbah bar bar Chana affirmed that he visited the spot and confirmed those measurements.

Today, on the Israeli side, near Jericho we can look over the Jordan River to the spot where B’nai Yisrael camped from before Moshe’s death until crossing the Jordan with Yehoshua. Vacationers in Jordan can visit what once were the plains of Moav which were conquered by B’nai Yisrael and inherited by the tribe of Reuven.

About the Author
Sharona holds a BA in Judaic Studies from Stern College and an MS in Jewish Education from Azrieli Graduate School, Yeshiva University. Sharona was the first Congregational Intern and Madricha Ruchanit at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, NY. After making aliya in 2004, Sharona founded Torat Reva Yerushalayim, a non profit organization based in Jerusalem which provides Torah study groups for students of all ages and backgrounds.
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