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According to Numbers 34:5 the south-western most point of (Biblical) Israel is "Nachal Mitzrayim". My first question is what river is this referring to?

The first time I remember reading this I thought it was referring to the Nile River (or one of the tributaries that feed into it from the Mediterranean) because that seemed to be the main river in Egypt and it would make sense to refer to it as Nachal Mitzrayim. However on most of the maps that I saw of Biblical Israel, Nachal Mitzrayim is identified as Wadi El Arish (much closer to Israel). A related question can be seen here.

Who says that Nachal Mitzrayim is Wadi El Arish and why do they understand "Nachal Mitzrayim" this way?

My second question is: Does anyone say that Nachal Mitzrayim is the Nile?

  • It doesn't make sense to be the Nile. The Nile was the middle of Egypt not its boundary. – Double AA Aug 8 '14 at 14:51
  • In modern Hebrew a river (like the Nile) is called Nahar (נהר), and Nachal (נחל) is used to describe smaller streams. Also, according to the Hebrew Wikipedia, in Biblical and Mishnaic Hebrew, a Nachal may refer also to a valley, even if no water flows through it. – Tamir Evan Aug 8 '14 at 14:53
  • @DoubleAA That's a good point, although if we were being given land that was already occupied by other nations maybe a (small) part of Mitzrayim would be given as well. In any event do we know that Mitzrayim's border ended with Nachal Mitzrayim? – Gavriel Aug 8 '14 at 14:56
  • @Gavriel Every border demarcates two countries. If it is our border it is also theirs. – Double AA Aug 8 '14 at 15:04
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According to Rav Sadya Gaon (a native of Egypt) in his Tafsir to Numbers (34:5) this refers to Wadi al-Arish.

According to Rashi, (a native of France), in his commentary to Joshua (13:3), nahal Mitsrayim is the Nile.

הוא נילוס הוא נחל מצרים

Rashi is followed by Radak (a Spanish native of Provence) in his commentary to Joshua there.

This is also the assumption of Targum Pseudo-Jonathan to Genesis (15:18) who renders "nahal Mitsrayim" as "nilus d'Mitsrayim"; "the Nile of Egypt.

This Targum was likely written before Rashi; perhaps in the 8th century, making it the earliest of these sources, although it may date to centuries after Rashi (see here).

According to Radvaz, a native of Egypt, it is Wadi al-Arish, and the one who says it is the Nile is mistaken. (Hilkhot Terumot 1:7). See also his responsa (6:2206) in which he cites R. Eliyahu Mizrahi as being of the mistaken opinion that nahal Mitsrayim is the Nile.

R. Avraham Benedict in Kovets Beit Aharon V'Yisrael (1995 pg. 107) notes that it would be a little strange for the Torah to refer to major river like the Nile as נחל; a term that does not even refer exclusively to an area with water (it can even refer to a dry river bed).

Furthermore, Genesis (15:18) contrasts "N'hal Mitsrayim" with the "great nahal" the Euphrates. It is strange to call the Euphrates great instead of the Nile. The Nile is well over four thousand miles long, while the Euphrates is little more than seventeen hundred miles long. Furthermore, the Nile is on average almost three kilometers wide, and at the widest more than seven. The Euphrates on the other hand, is at its widest less than half a kilometer. Although the dimensions of these rivers may have changed, it seems strange to refer to the Euphrates as great, and not the Nile. Wadi al-Arish, on the other hand, is a frequently dry seasonal stream only about 150 miles long, that certainly doesn't match the Euphrates. (Cf. Rashi to Deut. 1:7 for a different explanation of the description of the Euphrates).

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According to sefer Tevuos Haarets by R. Yehosef Schwartz, Nahal Mitzrayim refers to Wadi al-Arish. He (also) bases this in the translation of Rasag against the "Nilos" given by the Targum.

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