Updated: Aug 24, 2022
This week, in Parshat Re'eh, Moshe continues his closing speech to the Hebrews, before they cross over the Jordan River to the land promised to the forefathers. How will the people live in the land, what will they eat, how will they sacrifice and how will they deal with people who try to lead them astray are all spoken about in this Parsha.
The Jordan River is referred to scores of times in Torah, beginning in the book of Genesis,
Rivers and water are powerful symbols for Jews and for other faiths. The concept of passing from one reality to another, and all that entails, is evident in Parshat Re'eh. What does it mean to cross over to the other side of the river and begin a new life with new laws and norms?
I wondered this week about rivers and what the experience of the Hebrews must have been when they approached the Jordan, as they had known only a desert existence for a generation. The text leading to the pivotal experience at Mt. Sinai was detailed. The upcoming crossing of the Jordan is also a pivotal experience, but we receive less detail about the experience.
For now, though, I'd like you to wonder what must it have been like to see the river Jordan for the first time for the generation who lived in the desert and had water provided through miracles.
Here is a series of two poems about rivers and their power to transport and transform. I'd like to think that they bridge time and space.
Oh, River Jordan,
so narrow; not like the Hudson
or the Volga or the Nile,
but it must have been overwhelming
to see that water flowing.
You must have gathered around and gawked.
"So this is a river," you must have thought.
From where does it come?
Tell me friend,
could you smell the water as you approached?
Did you watch the migrating birds fly above your heads?
Did you slap yourselves as mosquitos bit?
Could you even imagine a river
after those days in the dry desert?
A river, so alive,
that descends from mountain streams to the sea?
A river that sings and slushes muddily as it moves
and leaves a train of silt behind?
A river that offers protection, sustenance;
even life itself?
The water in the desert traveled with you.
It trickled from rocks and miraculous wells,
but a noisy flowing river,
that must have been a site like no other.
Your parents had seen miracles
but they are now gone.
They had shared stories of the great Nile,
of the water that gave and took life,
but all you knew was the dry of the desert.
Your story was all rocks and sand,
stops and starts,
promises and punishments.
Moses talked about crossing the river.
He would stammer,
watery tears in his eyes
for he knew his own journey ended.
How he wanted to cross that river,
to feel the water on his toes,
but that would never be.
Did you have to stay away until the moment of crossing?
Was it like Sinai where you kept your distance,
fasting and separating?
Did the children ache, as children do,
to splash each other?
To pick up smooth stones and skip them along the surface?
Could they even know how to splash in the water?
Did you long to let the waters run through your fingers,
to drink it in?
Tell me, my friend,
will you hesitate to put your feet in?
Are you afraid to reach the other side
for although the other shore is always greener,
it is shrouded in the unknown.
flowing before you;
on this riverbank you reach an ending,
but on yonder riverbank is a new beginning,
pregnant with possibilities,
flowing with expectations and dreams,
as rivers always seem to be.
carriers of life
north to south
setting a course
to the promised land
symbol of freedom
take me there
For you are about to cross the Jordan to enter and possess the land that your God יהוה is assigning to you. When you have occupied it and are settled in it take care to observe all the laws and rules that I have set before you this day. Deuteronomy 11:31. Translation from Sefaria
כִּ֤י אַתֶּם֙ עֹבְרִ֣ים אֶת־הַיַּרְדֵּ֔ן
For other Words Have Wings posts on Parshat Re'eh:
For more on the midrashim of water in the desert:
For more on the Jordan River