Off the Beaten Track: Days of Judgment

A new column: Travel expert Joe Yudin introduces "the road less travelled" as well as some new discoveries at more well-known sites.

Dan River 311 (photo credit: Joe Yudin)
Dan River 311
(photo credit: Joe Yudin)
Joe Yudin owns We all know that the period of time between Rosh HaShana (the New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) are collectively called the Days of Awe. Religiously, these are the days that we Jews are supposed to take into account all that we have done wrong over the previous year, and make amends, not just to God Himself, but to all those to whom we have wronged. But what is the meaning of the Jewish New Year and how does it apply to the Biblical Land of Israel? Various interpretations in the Mishnah and Talmud indicate that on Rosh Hashannah God created either the universe or man (depending on which rabbis interpretation), and it is also the time when we will be judged and our fate sealed for the next year. If this is the case we should start our outing at the Tel Dan Nature Reserve.
Take Route 90 all the way north to Kiryat Shmona and then go right onto Route 99. Pass the mall on your right and peeking through the trees to your left along the road you can gaze into Lebanon. Notice the sign for Kibbutz Dan and make a left at the brown Tel Dan Nature Reserve sign. Go to the end of the road keeping right, pay the entrance fee and park the car.
The Biblical city of Dan was called Tel el-Kadi by the local Arabs before it was excavated. It literally means Hill of the Judge. As their legend goes, before the creation of man there were three rivers at the base of the majestic Hermon Mountain. Each river claimed to be the mightiest, and they could not decide amongst themselves who was grander. These rivers, the Dan, the Hatzbani and the Banyas asked the Almighty to come down and judge for Himself, which He did, sitting on the small hill among them which we now know today as Tel Dan. God listened to the incessant quarreling amongst the rivers until He ruled stating, “Rivers! You are all dear to me. Harken together and all three shall become the mightiest river, Jordan (Vilnay, Legends).”
The setting here amongst the headwaters of the Jordan is truly inspiring. It is the greenest and most lush part of the Land of Israel. Going down paved path you come to a wooden bridge that crosses over an old aqueduct on the Dan River. The amount of cool, rushing water is always a shock to tourists, the majority who think that all of Israel is a desert. 80% of the water that flows into the Jordan River comes from the Dan, hence the name “Jordan” meaning “Going down from the Dan”. Follow the path. You will feel that you are in the jungle. The reserve has many different paths and I recommend taking the long trail. You will come to a beautiful wading pool, a good opportunity for a dip, before continuing on to the Israelite city.
Eventually and out of the blue you will come to the imposing ancient walls. The Bible tells us that in the 12th century BCE (Judges period) the Israelite tribe of Dan gave up on conquering the Gaza area due to the strength of the Philistines and headed north to the Canaanite city of Laish, renaming it after their father, Dan. Indeed archaeologists have confirmed a major change in the character of the city during the late 12th century BCE, from a sedentary, Bronze AG, Canaanite city, into a semi-nomadic Iron Age, less developed village. Towards the end of the 10th century Dan developed into an Israelite cultic center as described by the Bible and evidenced in the archaeological excavations. By the 9th century BCE these fortifications were built and the city began massive expansion and development.
Make your way past the impressive city walls and into the cobblestone square. Forward and to your right is a sacrificial altar and “Massebot” which are standing stones or representations of the gods. Just as the Bible tells us this period of Israelite history wasn’t the Israelites most shining moment in embracing monotheism and they were according to our sages, punished for it. To your left is the middle gate of the city and perhaps the most impressive site here at Tel Dan. The gates of the Israelite cities were places of gathering, for the people of Israel and courts of justice given out by the king and his government. A quick look at the Hebrew Bible attests to this:
Then the king arose, and sat in the gate. And they told unto all the people, saying: 'Behold, the king doth sit in the gate'; and all the people came before the king (II Samuel 19:9).
Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will be gracious unto the remnant of Joseph (Amos 5:15).
Speak ye every man the truth with his neighbor; execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates (Zechariah 8:16).
Here at the gate we see the spot of the king’s throne, the bench of the elders of the city and we can easily imagine how all Israel would come here during the festivals, to trade, hear the news and gossip and to have the king or judge settle disputes.
Around the corner, hidden away for some reason, are some excellent maps and explanations on the wall. This is also near the place where a 9th century BCE inscription was found mentioning “the House of David” confirming in many people’s eyes his existence. Continue up the path, through the inner gate, and wind your way up the paved street. Eventually you will get to Dan’s cultic center founded by King Jeroboam after his split from Judah in 925 BCE. A civil war ensued and the Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judah were created separately. The new king of Israel, Jeroboam, apparently did not want the Israelites to go up to Jerusalem for the pilgrimages and spend their money in the Kingdom of Judah:
…the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold; and he said unto them: 'Ye have gone up long enough to Jerusalem; behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.' And he set the one in Beth-el, and the other put he in Dan (1 Kings 12:28).
Check out the ruins of this sanctuary. As you can imagine the prophets of Israel were not to happy about this idol warship and of course the people of Israel were judged by God for their evil ways. This whole area was covered in ash when found and its destruction has been solidly been dated to the Assyrian invasion of the late 8th century BCE, which marked the end of the Kingdom of Israel and the scattering of the ten northern tribes to oblivion.
Continue on the trail down to the flour mill. Eventually you will come to a spot the sign calls “Paradise” but in Hebrew it says something else “Garden of Eden”. This is one of the candidates as sited in the Talmud for the Garden of Eden itself. It certainly feels like the Garden of Eden. If God indeed created the world or man on Rosh Hashanah, this certainly makes for the perfect end of our tour. Have a happy New Year and may you all be inscribed in the Book of Life!

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