Numbers 21:16, on the topic of the "Wars of God", after describing the flow of the streams of Arnon toward the borders of Moab says:

וּמִשָּׁם בְּאֵרָה הִוא הַבְּאֵר אֲשֶׁר אָמַר יְהוָה לְמֹשֶׁה אֱסֹף אֶת-הָעָם וְאֶתְּנָה לָהֶם מָיִם

Onkelos Translates:

וּמִתַּמָּן אִתְיְהֵיבַת לְהוֹן בֵּירָא הִיא בֵּירָא דַּאֲמַר יְיָ לְמֹשֶׁה כְּנוֹשׁ יָת עַמָּא וְאֶתֵּין לְהוֹן מַיָּא

And from there a well was given to them, it is the well about which God said to Moses 'Gather the nation and I shall give them water'.

Targum Pseudo Jonathan does this as well. As far as I can tell this implies that the well was given to the Israelites from the streams of Arnon.

Two wells are mentioned in the Torah, One was given in Exodus 17, when the Israelites traveled from The wilderness of סין, Sin, and camping in Refidim. The second was given in Numbers 20, when the Israelites traveled to the wilderness of צין, Tzin, and camped there in Kadesh, (the wilderness names are very similar, perhaps suggesting proximity?) Has anyone determined if either of these locations line up with the streams of Arnon?

Based on the Israelites' song about the well and Onkelos' translation thereof, it seems clear that the well was given in the desert, (see verse 18), and then it descended with them into the streams and then ascended with them up to the heights. It seems like 'there' in Onkelos on verse 16 should mean the desert then, but the context of verse 16 doesn't fit at all. Was the well 're-gifted' at the streams?

What does Onkelos mean in verse 16? Where was the well given from?


1 Answer 1


It seems I misread the verses, according to the Targumim. Many other commentaries read the verse as a continuation of the passage about the wars of God. Nahmanides, however, says that verse 16 returns to the above topic of the travels. I believe this is Onkelos' approach as well, though he disagrees with Nahmanides about there being a place called "בארה", holding that this refers instead to the miraculous well.

So verses 14 and 15 are interjections. They are parenthetical to the travels of Israel that we have been reading about through verse 13, in which we are told that,

מִשָּׁם, נָסָעוּ, וַיַּחֲנוּ מֵעֵבֶר אַרְנוֹן אֲשֶׁר בַּמִּדְבָּר, הַיֹּצֵא מִגְּבֻל הָאֱמֹרִי: כִּי אַרְנוֹן גְּבוּל מוֹאָב, בֵּין מוֹאָב וּבֵין הָאֱמֹרִי.

From thence they journeyed, and pitched on the other side of the Arnon, which is in the wilderness, that cometh out of the border of the Amorites.--For Arnon is the border of Moab, between Moab and the Amorites

So we see that they camped on the wilderness side of Arnon. Onkelos is thus saying that the well came to them from the wilderness, which is consistent with the general location of the well's origin as described in verse 18, per his translation;

בֵּירָא דְּחַפְרוּהָא רַבְרְבַיָּא, כְּרוּהָא רֵישֵׁי עַמָּא, סָפְרַיָּא, בְּחֻטְרֵיהוֹן; וּמִמַּדְבְּרָא, אִתְיְהֵיבַת לְהוֹן.

The well that the princes dug, that the chiefs of the nation hollowed, the scribes with their staves; and from the wilderness, it was given to them.

The placement of this passage about the well is indeed strange. After all the well was not a novelty at this point, it was with the Israelites for forty years! The Midrash Tanhuma discusses this, (See s' 20).

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .