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Shabbat Parashat Chukat 5782

Parashat Hashavua: What Happened in Meidva?

Harav Yosef Carmel

Our parasha, in its poetic part (Bamidbar 21:30), describing the geopolitical situation, mentions a city called Meidva. The place is also mentioned in Yehoshua (13:9) and Yeshayahu (15:2), as a central city in the Moavite region of Transjordan. In the past, we have discussed the cruel capture of the Land of Moav at the hands of Sichon, King of the Emori and his sins against the women of Meidva. (138 years ago, an ancient (apparently from the Byzantine period) mosaic was found in biblical Meidva that depicts Eretz Yisrael and highlights the area around Yerushalayim.) Surprisingly, though, in Divrei Hayamim (I, 19:7), Meidva is described as a city of Amon, not Moav.

Let us explain what might have happened. After Nachash, the King of Amon died, David sent a delegation to console his son, Chanun. The delegation returned after having been harshly disgraced (Shmuel II, 10:1-5). David decided to punish the Amonites, and he sent an elite brigade led by Yoav and Avishai to Amon and its capital, Rabba (ibid. 7). The Amonites, who were concerned about David’s possible reaction, hired more than 30,000 Aramite soldiers to protect them (ibid. 6). In that narrative (ibid. 8), it appears that the battle took place outside of Rabba. However, in Divrei Hayamim (I, 19:6-9) it is clear that it was outside of Meidva, and it says that Amonite fighters emerged from that city.

As the battle took shape, it says that Yoav and Avishai found themselves trapped in an ambush between the forces of Amon and the mercenaries from Aram. Yoav, in his famous charge and words of encouragement to his brother Avishai (ibid. 10-13), broke the forces into two but kept them responsive to the needs of the other unit. How is it that a general as experienced as Yoav allowed himself to be ambushed?

Let us advance the following theory. Yoav decided to surprise the Amonites and to approach Rabba after taking a detour to the south. They left Yerushalayim on the Path of the Patriarchs, going south to Chevron (perhaps praying in Me’arat Hamachpela) and then turning east and crossing the border at the Dead Sea at a point where there is either a dry patch or very low water. They then passed through the Land of Moav, which was to the south of the Land of Amon. The Amonites uncovered the plan and put the Aramite forces to the south of the Moavite city of Meidva and their own army within the city of their Moavite neighbors. This cooperation between the three nations created a dangerous situation for Yoav. Only with Divine Assistance, great dedication, and deep belief did the trapped forces of David (the original IDF, if you will) escape.

If this is what happened at Meidva, we understand why David treated the Moavites so harshly after he triumphed over them (see Shmuel II, 8:2).

Let us pray for the success and safety of our current IDF, who protect our Land and our people.

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