Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Battle of Giv'on

There's a saying, "Ayn Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael," "There's no Torah like the Torah of the Land of Israel." It expresses the concept that Eretz Yisrael has a special energy to it which helps the mind to absorb the conepts one learns here more easily and thouroghly than in the best yeshivas of London or New York. But there's another facet to the expression. When you learn Torah in Eretz Yisrael, where the whole thing happened, you're no longer dealing with just a conceptual story, or an allegory, but with the real history of the people. There's no need to imagine what the places and cities looked like. You can take the bus.

The grave of Samuel the Prophet is marked with a green X. The town of Giv'on is directly to the north. My town of Pisgat Ze'ev is directly east.

In our Tanach Shiur (Bible lesson,) we have been reading from the book of Joshua, which begins where the Torah (five books of Moses) ends, with the Jews standing opposite the river Jordan, preparing to cross into Eretz Yisrael under the leadership of Joshua the Prophet. After defeating and destroying the Canaanite cities of Jericho and Ai, word spread far and wide across the land that a new force had moved into the neighborhood, and was wiping out idolatry.

Looking East, in the direction of Jericho and Ai (my town of Pisgat Ze'ev is on the other side of the ridge line.)
The people of the Canaanite town of Giv'on (Gibeon) were petrified. They had already been given the option of rejecting idolatry or leaving the land, and had decided to stand and fight instead. But the slaughter at Jericho and Ai gave them second thoughts. Thinking it too late to change their minds, the Giv'onim (Gibeonites) decided on a ruse.
The Giv'onim wore out their sandals, collected all the stale old bread they could find, and set out to approach the Jewish forces encamped in Jericho from a direction other than Giv'on. When they finally arrived, they explained that they had come from far, far away to help the Jews in the war, displaying their worn sandals and stale bread as evidence. The Jews immediately accepted and made a covenant with them, without consulting the high priest who could have warned them, thus unwittingly violating the direct Torah prohibition against making a covenant with the Canaanites.

Yours truly in front of El-Jib, the Arab town built on the ruins of Giv'on.
Later, when the Jewish camp realized they had been tricked, there was a move to kill the Givonim, but the Givonim explained that they had feared for their lives and didn't realize that they would still have been granted exception from the war had they abandoned idolatry. Joshua conferred with the elders and decided that the treaty stood. It was feared that even though the treaty had been made under false pretenses, to violate it now that they were known as the nation which serves God, could be midinterpreted by the idolatrous nations as a Chillul Hashem, a desecration of God's name. Like today when the United Nations routinely condemns Israel for it's acts of defense while ignoring Arab suicide bombings and invasions, so too the nations of the ancient world would only see that Israel had violated its treaty and ignore the dubious conditions under which it was signed. Joshua permitted the Givonim to return to their city in peace, to remain in the land, and even to serve as honored workers in the Holy Temple, provided they abandoned idolatry and recognized Jewish sovereignty.
The Jewish town of Givon, built west of the ruins of ancient Givon.
But the other Canaanite kings were furious at the Givonim for breaking ranks. The kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmiuk, and Lachish (where my ex-landlord now lives) gathered their foces and marched north, encamping outside Givon, preparing to exterminate the residents the next day. The terrified Givonim sent a messenger to Joshua, who was with the Jewish camp in Jericho, to tell him that they were in peril.
Looking west towards Jerusalem. The Canaanite kings likely encamped where we were standing.
In spite of the dubious conditions under which the covenant with the Givonim had been forged, they were now under Jewish protection. Without a moment's hesitation, Joshua roused his soldiers and headed east, marching kilometer after kilometer, over hills and ridge lines, arriving with miraculous speed, overnight. Catching the Canaanites by surprise, he immediately attacked, throwing them into a panic and sending them fleeing in the direction of Beit Horon. In a sign of divine approval of Joshua's decision to honor the covenant, huge stones fell from the sky, crusing the fleeing Canaanites. The battle was proceeding swimmingly but the day was running out. Fearing he would lose the initiative if he had to stop for the night, Joshua commanded the sun to stop, and the moon to remain still over the valley of Ayalon. The four kings, now subdued, were put to death. The conclusion of the war would take many more years, but Joshua had established a firm foothold on the land, and idolatry was banished from southern Israel.

Looking towards Beit Horon, the direction of the Canaanite retreat. In the far distance is Modi'in, in the Valley of Ayalon.

The group, on the roof of Samuel the Prophet, looking towards Jerusalem.

Our shadows on an archaeological ruin.

The Machon Meir beginning students of the English department (yours truly top right.) Department Director and tour guide Rav Listman with the baseball cap. Rick, who had me over for thanksgiving, with the gray jacket.

Excavations of a settlement next to the grave of Samuel the Prophet.

More excavations. Wish I could tell you more about them.

Foreground: Excavations Background: Mount Scopus, Jerusalem

No comments: