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We read in Bereishit 50:10-11

וַיָּבֹאוּ עַד-גֹּרֶן הָאָטָד, אֲשֶׁר בְּעֵבֶר הַיַּרְדֵּן, וַיִּסְפְּדוּ-שָׁם, מִסְפֵּד גָּדוֹל וְכָבֵד מְאֹד; וַיַּעַשׂ לְאָבִיו אֵבֶל, שִׁבְעַת יָמִים. וַיַּרְא יוֹשֵׁב הָאָרֶץ הַכְּנַעֲנִי אֶת-הָאֵבֶל, בְּגֹרֶן הָאָטָד, וַיֹּאמְרוּ, אֵבֶל-כָּבֵד זֶה לְמִצְרָיִם; עַל-כֵּן קָרָא שְׁמָהּ, אָבֵל מִצְרַיִם, אֲשֶׁר, בְּעֵבֶר הַיַּרְדֵּן

And they came to the threshing-floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, and there they wailed with a very great and sore wailing; and he made a mourning for his father seven days. And when the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning in the floor of Atad, they said: 'This is a grievous mourning to the Egyptians.' Wherefore the name of it was called Abel-mizraim, which is beyond the Jordan. (JPS translation)

Why would Yaakov's funeral procession be in Ever HaYarden (normally translated as Transjordan i.e. the eastern bank of the Jordan) if they were travelling from Egypt to bury him in Hebron? If they were following the most direct route, they would never be east of the Jordan?

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    I knew we shouldn't have made that right turn at Ezion Geber! – Clint Eastwood Dec 27 '17 at 15:57
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    I wouldn’t be surprised if this is Ma’aseh Avos Siman l’Banim, since Moshe took a similar route (around the eastern side). – DonielF Dec 27 '17 at 18:26
  • @DonielF Nice suggestion! Now if only we could find a source... – Joel K Dec 27 '17 at 18:31
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    @DonielF see the Shu"t Terumas Hagoren quoted below in my answer – רבות מחשבות Dec 27 '17 at 18:32
  • @JoelK source is edited into my answer – רבות מחשבות Dec 27 '17 at 18:32
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Another two approaches by mainstream Peshat Mefarshim:

Shadal here (and Clint Eastwood in the comments above) suggests that for Moshe and Benei Yisrael, Ever Hayarden is Eretz Yisroel, because they had not entered Eretz Yisroel.

אשר בעבר הירדן – בא״י, ונקרא בעבר הירדן כלפי המקום שהיו בו משה וישראל.

Netziv here disagrees with the premise of Joel K's question, and says that from the fact that they reached Transjordan it shows that they did not take the most direct route, rather, they tried to pass through other lands and areas so more people would join the funeral precession. He compares this to Mishna Keilim 1:7 which describes a similar phenomenon.

ויבואו עד גורן האטד אשר בעבר הירדן – באמת ההולך ממצרים מערבה דרומה של ארץ ישראל לחברון מזרחה, אין צריך להגיע לירדן כלל, אלא בהגיעו נגד חברון מעקם דרכו לצפון ובא לחברון. אבל יוסף הקיף מהלכו הלאה כדי שיתוספו במהלכו הרבה ממואב וכנענים היושבים על יד הירדן. ומזה שנינו במסכת כלים (פ״א מ״ז) ׳ומסבבים לתוכן מת עד שירצו׳, הרי דדרך לסבב בנשיאה ממקום למקום עד שמגיע למקום קבורה, והוא לכבודו של מת.

Netziv is an extremely valuable interpretation because according to him, Ever Hayarden IS Transjordan, thus making it a possible explanation according to Targumim (and commentaries) who appear to say that Ever Hayarden means Transjordan by translating it the same way as Ever Hayarden everywhere else.

Edit: See also Shu"t Terumas Hagoren (the irony!) 2:58, who also understands that Ever Hayarden means Transjordan, and provides another reason (later also suggested by DonielF):

לפי שיטה זו של התנחומא ורש"י יש לומר שגם המסלול לשאת את ארונו של יעקב למערת המכפלה נקבע להם ע"י יעקב בהתאם למסלול יציאתם של בני ישראל ממצרים וכניסתם לארץ. כי העלאת ארונו של יעקב לארץ היתה מעין חזרה לקראת יציאת בני ישראל ממצרים וכניסתם לארץ. וכשם שקבע להם יעקב את סדר המסע והחניה, כך קבע להם את המסלול של הדרך, שחייב להיות זהה עם המסלול של יציאת בני ישראל ממצרים.

Edit #2: JoelK, in the comments thread, suggested the possibility that they did not want to pass through Pelishti lands because they were afraid of an attack by the Pelishtim, and they therefore travelled through the Transjordan. While I was originally skeptical of this approach, it is found in the Rashi Kepshuto/Peshuto Shel Mikrah Chumash (Leshem Publications) in the Peshat commentary. It is also suggested by Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin in Oznaim Latorah (he also offers the view of Maaseh Avos Siman Labanim, as above).

  • Thanks. +1 As I mentioned in my comment above, Shadal’s approach is difficult when we consider the Ever HaYarden mentioned in Devarim 1:1 (unless we apply the סוד שנים עשר of Ibn Ezra (והמשכיל ידום)). Does Shadal discuss this (either here or in Devarim)? – Joel K Dec 27 '17 at 18:07
  • @JoelK actually, I don't think it's a problem for Shadal at all. It is clear from there (whether Reuven, Gad, or from the narration and context) that Ever Hayarden over there means the side Benei Yisrael are currently on. He doesn't address this here. I don't know if he addresses it directly there, but I didn't see it with a quick glance. That's because he is actually discussing the Sod Hashneim Asar at length, to refute Spinoza, so I didn't want to read through 3 pages of it to find a line about Eiver Hayarden... – רבות מחשבות Dec 27 '17 at 18:23
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    Never mind, I found it, and he says to determine based on context: בעבר הירדן, אם תבין סוד השנים עשר וכו׳, והבין מזה כי לדעת ראב״ע משה לא היה יכול לכתוב מלות בעבר הירדן, מפני שהוא לא עבר את הירדן; וזה שבוש, כי מליצת עבר הירדן נאמרת בשוה על העבר המזרחי ועל העבר המערבי, וסומכין על הקורא, שיבין מהמשך הענין באיזה עבר מדברים (עיין געז׳{עניוס} .Thesaurus, pag. 989); – רבות מחשבות Dec 27 '17 at 18:25
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    @JoelK If you're bored and want to read about Shadal and Sod Hashneim Asar) compare Mechokekei Yehudah daat.ac.il/daat/vl/mehokek/mehokek60.pdf (page 5, who quotes Shadal on Sod Hashneim Asar), and what Shadal actually says at mg.alhatorah.org/Full/Devarim/1.1#e0n7. – רבות מחשבות Dec 27 '17 at 18:28
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    @JoelK excellent question. Either 1) Shadal must assume that everything in the Torah is being written from that perspective unless the context specifies otherwise, as is the case in Devarim 1. Or, 2) another possibility is that the line about Moshe and Benei Yisrael is simply to show that Ever Hayarden CAN refer to Eretz Yisrael, because context would not be enough to explain the wording if Ever Hayarden always meant Transjordan. – רבות מחשבות Dec 27 '17 at 19:00
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All the answers that I've come across suggest that Ever HaYarden does not mean Transjordan in the context of this verse.

  1. Chizkuni suggests that that the Canaanites who are observing the mourning at the threshing-floor of Atad were those who lived under Sichon and Og on the eastern bank of the Jordan. When the verse refers to Ever HaYarden (the other side of the Jordan) it is from their perspective, so that Avel-Mitzrayim is actually on the western side of the Jordan.

  2. R. Yitzchak ben Pinchas believes that Goren HaAtad is on the western bank of the Jordan, near Hebron. However, there was an identically-named place in Philistia. Ever HaYarden in this verse therefore means the Goren HaAtad located in the "Jordan-side" of Canaan (i.e. East Canaan) as opposed to the one located in the Western side of the land.

  3. Yehuda Ziv and Prof Aaron Demsky (quoted towards the beginning of this article by Prof Yoel Elitzur) posit the existence of a place called 'Jordan' in the southwest of Israel. Avel-Mitzrayim is thus located at Ever HaYarden - "a crossing (ma’avar) that the mourners used to traverse this wadi, which was located in the vicinity of 'Jordan'" in southwest Israel, closer to Egypt.

  4. Prof Elitzur himself (quoting his father, Prof Yehuda Elitzur) proposes again that Goren HaAtad is on the western bank of the Jordan, and that Ever HaYarden (when not modified by the directions east or west) can actually be a synonym from the Aravah i.e. the Jordan Rift Valley.

  • Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/52797/… (Hat-tip to @GershonGold's answer there which pointed me to R. Yitzchak ben Pinchas.) – Joel K Dec 27 '17 at 14:26
  • Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/78945/… (Hat-tip to @sabbahillel's answer there which led me to Prof Elitzur's article.) – Joel K Dec 27 '17 at 14:28
  • If someone is reading the Torah before entering Eretz Yisroel, they are on the East side and "across" is on the West side. – Clint Eastwood Dec 27 '17 at 15:23
  • @ClintEastwood That's a possible approach, but quite difficult in light of Devarim 1:1... – Joel K Dec 27 '17 at 15:28
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    Something else worth considering is how some of these approaches would fit in with verse 13 - וַיִּשְׂא֨וּ אֹת֤וֹ בָנָיו֙ אַ֣רְצָה כְּנַ֔עַן. – רבות מחשבות Dec 27 '17 at 17:07

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