The Gemara in Sota 34 says

וכיון שניטבלו רגלי כהנים במים חזרו המים לאחוריהם שנאמר וכבוא נושאי הארון עד הירדן וגו' ויעמדו המים היורדים מלמעלה קמו נד אחד וכמה גובהן של מים שנים עשר מיל על שנים עשר מיל כנגד מחנה ישראל דברי ר' יהודה אמר לו ר' אלעזר בר' שמעון לדבריך אדם קל או מים קלים הוי אומר מים קלים אם כן באין מים ושוטפין אותן אלא מלמד שהיו מים נגדשין ועולין כיפין על גבי כיפין יתר משלש מאות מיל

When the Jews crossed the Jordan river entering Israel, the Jordan river miraculously stood like a wall, though unlike the miracle of the Yam Suf, the waters kept pouring towards the wall of water so the wall of water kept rising. There's an argument how high the wall ended up. Some say it was 12 mil (around 48000 ft) high and others say higher than 300 mil.

Tosfos there asks how can that be, as clouds are only at 12 mil (3 parsa and 4 mil per parsa). He answers that (according to the second opinion) the Jordan went higher than the clouds.

Yet, there's a Gemara in Yoma (31a) which says that we learn from the fact that the Mikva in the Beis Hamikdash was 22 amos above ground that the spring from which it drew was that high, as Rashi says there:

בוה מקרקע עזרה עשרים ושלש אמות. כמדת גובה שער המים ובנין כלי של שלש אמות מלמעלה להחזיק ארבעים סאה שאי אפשר למים לעלות להר שהוא גבוה ממקום שנובעין שם

Water can't rise higher than its source.

The source of the Jordan is the Kinneret, which is below sea-level. Even the highest mountain in the region (Mt. Hermon) is only some 9000 ft. Therefore, once the waters got that high they should have stopped flowing.

I understand we're dealing with miracles here, but this seems to be an unnecessary miracle (to force waters to flow when they normally wouldn't). Does anyone discuss how this works out?

  • We can note that 300 mil (at R' Chaim Naeh's 960m=1mil) is 288000m. Google Maps tells me that the distance from Eilat to the Adam Bridge (the site where the water stood up) is 289210m. Perhaps there is a metaphor/symbol of the news reaching all the way to the sea in the south? The Arava valley is in some ways the logical continuation of the Jordan River.
    – Double AA
    May 15, 2015 at 3:42
  • לשון גוזמא? Perhaps the sages were just exaggerating or giving a simboilc number..
    – yechezkel
    May 20, 2015 at 5:53
  • @yechezkel even 12 mil is too high, and 12 mil seems precise May 20, 2015 at 17:01
  • 2
    The fact that the number is precise does not mean that it isn't simbolic or an exaggeration.
    – yechezkel
    May 20, 2015 at 17:15
  • @yechezkel I assume that given the Babylonan context of the authorship of the Talmud, in which base-60 was used, multiples of 60, and perhaps 12 as well would have been the equivalent of a base-10 speaker referencing something being 100 miles, for example. that would definitely lend itself to interpreting non-literally.
    – mevaqesh
    Jun 15, 2015 at 1:48

2 Answers 2


Possibly the point of the upward flow was to make the pillar of water visible to all the inhabitants of Canaan. This is similar to requirement that the Jews leave Egypt during the day to demonstrate the powerlessness of the Egyptians.


It is undoubtedly clear and evident that most prophecies are given in images, for this is the characteristic of the imaginative faculty, the organ of prophecy. We find it also necessary to say a few words on the figures, hyperboles, and exaggerations that occur in Scripture. They would create strange ideas if we were to take them literally without noticing the exaggeration which they contain, or if we were to understand them in accordance with the original meaning of the terms, ignoring the fact that these are used figuratively. Our Sages say distinctly Scripture uses hyperbolic or exaggerated language and quote as an instance, "cities walled and fortified, rising up to heaven" (Deut. i. 28). As a hyperbole our Sages quote, "For the bird of heaven carries the voice" (Eccles. x. 20); in the same sense it is said, "Whose height is like that of cedar trees" (Amos ii. 9). Instances of this kind are frequent in the language of all prophets; what they say is frequently hyperbolic or exaggerated, and not precise or exact.

Moreh Nevukhim 2:47

Read the passage for the symbolism, not the literalism. Every answer given is attached to a symbolic reason, not a reason that demands a scientific rationale.

  • Yes of course it isn't meant literally. So what is the symbolism?
    – Double AA
    Aug 14, 2015 at 1:10
  • @DoubleAA that's way beyond the scope of the question and my knowledge. This was tagged 'science' and was about the physics of water flow. The symbolism is a fascinating question; just not the one OP asked.
    – ShamanSTK
    Aug 14, 2015 at 1:26
  • Yes it is. Q: The stated miracle seems unnecessary. So why state it as such? Answer: [some sort of symbolism].
    – Double AA
    Aug 14, 2015 at 1:40
  • @DoubleAA that would be a more productive question, but it is a tortured reading of the last three paragraphs of OP, and assumes a hashkafa that you and I certainly share, but it is doubtful that op has it.
    – ShamanSTK
    Aug 14, 2015 at 1:52
  • but it's not in scripture, neither is it a prophecy, and the derivation (the disprove in the previous page) implied that they believed it was the same height as the Jewish camp Aug 14, 2015 at 6:40

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