July 23, 2024
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The location from where the מרגלים (scouts or spies) were sent has been the topic of much discussion, for several reasons. For one thing, the name usually used —– קדש ברנע (Kadesh Barneya) —– doesn’t even appear in our parsha. It’s eventually used whenever the מרגלים are referred to (Bamidbar 32:8, Devarim 1:19/9:23 and Yehoshua 14:7) and elsewhere (e.g. Devarim 1:2/2:14), but it’s called מדבר פארן when the nation arrived there (Bamidbar 12:16), when the מרגלים were sent (13:3)and when they returned (13:26) – although for the latter, “קדשה” (to Kadesh) is added. When Moshe lists the encampments (33:18), he calls it רתמה. Why does the Torah use different names for the same location?

The southern boundary of Eretz Yisroel runs south of קדש ברנע (Bamidbar 34:4, Yehoshua 15:3). Since Moshe never entered Eretz Yisroel, how could the nation have camped there? [Because of this question, Chizkuni suggests there were two Kadesh Barneyas, one on the southern border and one next to it, beyond the border. However, besides the unlikelihood of two locations with the same name being right next to each other, how could the southern border be described as passing south of קדש ברנע if it’s north of the other קדש ברנע?]

קדש ברנע is in מדבר פארן, while קדש is in מדבר צן (Bamidbar 20:1, 27:14, 33:36 and Devarim 32:51). Since the location in מדבר פארן is also called קדש (Bamidbar 13:26 and Devarim 1:46), the assumption is that קדש and קדש ברנע are the same place. Rashi (Devarim 1:46) says the nation returned to Kadesh 19 years later, implying that they are one and the same. But if קדש and קדש ברנע are the same place, how could they be in two different deserts?

[Get ready for a series of paragraphs, each one trying to make a point that will hopefully work together to answer these questions.]

Atlas Daat Mikra says מדבר צן is the northern section of מדבר פארן. Yoel Elitzur (whose father, Yehuda, was one of its editors) agrees, based on the מרגלים being sent from מדבר פארן yet starting their mission in מדבר צן (Bamidbar 13:21). However, why does the Torah alternate between calling it מדבר פארן and מדבר צן? It seems more likely that they’re two separate deserts, with the nation camping in מדבר פארן, and מדבר צן being the first place in Eretz Yisroel that the מרגלים scouted.

Gur Aryeh (Bereishis 14:7) says Rashi doesn’t mean the nation returned to the same exact spot 19 years later, but the same general area. He says מדבר קדש is one big desert, within which was קדש (on the border of Edom), and קדש ברנע (from where the מרגלים were sent). When Rashi says they returned to קדש, he means the desert called קדש, even though it was to a different location within that desert. Although this solves the issue Gur Aryeh is trying to address (which doesn’t need addressing, since the conquering kings returned from איל פארן to קדש, which could therefore be the קדש near Edom, as opposed to קדש ברנע in מדבר פארן), it seems strange for “מדבר קדש” to include parts of both מדבר פארן and מדבר צן.

Or Hachayim (Bamidbar 14:25) explains how God told Moshe to leave “tomorrow” if they stayed for 19 years, suggesting that they did leave the next day, wandered for 19 years, then returned to that same place (in מדבר פארן), where they stayed for another 19 years. Therefore, the קדש next to Edom need not be the same place the מרגלים were sent from, even if they returned to the latter 19 years later. Despite Rashi (Devarim 1:46) saying they stayed in Kadesh for 19 years before saying they wandered for 19 years and returned to Kadesh —– implying that the 19 years in Kadesh came first—– the Seder Olam (8) he’s based on has the 19 years of wandering first; Rashi may have mentioned the 19-year stay in קדש first because that’s what the verse he’s explaining is referring to.

The first time the Torah mentions קדש ברנע (Bamidbar 32:8), Rashi tells us there were two places called “קדש.” The straightforward understanding is that the two places he’s referring to are the קדש where Moshe hit the rock (near Edom, first mentioned in Bamidbar 20:1) and קדש ברנע. Most commentators (e.g. Ramban on Bamidbar 12:16 and Ibn Ezra on 20:14) agree that they’re two separate places, with one in מדבר פארן and the other in מדבר צן – although Ibn Ezra thinks קדש ברנע is the name of the desert, referred to in Tehillim (29:8) as “מדבר קדש.” He includes קברות התאוה and חצרות as part of קדש ברנע (Bamidbar 33:16), meaning there was a significant overlap between the desert called קדש ברנע and מדבר פארן, which seems unlikely.

[Sha’aray Aharon (Bamidbar 13:21) says קדש and קדש ברנע must be far from each other, since there were so many encampments between the two, but he isn’t taking into account that they went south from קדש ברנע then back north to קדש before going back south again to go around Edom. Nevertheless, from the description of the southern boundary, which starts on the east at the Dead Sea and has two more boundary markers before קדש ברנע, it’s clear they’re not so close to each other.]

According to Seforno (Bamidbar 12:16 and 13:26), the מרגלים didn’t leave from קדש ברנע, they left from the part of מדבר פארן opposite קדש ברנע.קדש ברנע itself is in Eretz Yisroel, but Moshe never entered it, only getting close to it —– “עד קדש ברנע” (Devarim 1:19). Similarly, Netziv (Bamidbar 20:1) says the nation camped outside חצרות and outside קדש without entering them. Although he doesn’t say this about קדש ברנע, the concept can be applied there as well. [When the Torah says the מרגלים were sent from קדש ברנע, it must be referring to where the מרגלים started their mission in Eretz Yisroel.] Because the part of מדבר פארן where they camped didn’t have a name (yet), the Torah refers to it as מדבר פארן.

Although Rashi (Bamidbar 33:18) gives a reason why this location was subsequently called רתמה, Yoel Elitzur (Places in the parsha, page 445) says the name “is certainly derived from the word rotem referring to the broom bush, because of the high concentration of these plants in that location,” which he tentatively suggests is three miles west of Ain el-Qudeirat. [Most identify Ain el-Qudeirat with קדש ברנע.]

The specifics of the southern boundary of Eretz Yisroel are related twice. In Bamidbar (34:3-5), it starts in the southeast with מדבר צן “which is next to Edom,” but restarts with the Dead Sea, passes south of,מעלה עקרבים before passing through צן (assuredly referring to the desert by that name) and then going to its southernmost point, קדש ברנע. Four more locations are then given, with the last one being the Mediterranean Sea. In Yehoshua (15:1-4), similar boundaries are given. Yechezkel (47:19 and 48:28) has a shortened version, with just three locations: in the southeast, the southwest and in between. The middle one is “מי מריבות קדש,” which normally refers to the קדש next to Edom, but that’s too close to the eastern boundary to be the middle marker. Rashi says it refers to מדבר צין, i.e. that entire desert, which, based on קדש ברנע being in מדבר צן and not מדבר פארן, likely refers to קדש ברנע. In other words, מדבר צן is being referred to as the קדש within which Moshe sinned, i.e. מדבר קדש. Rashi says this explicitly in Yehoshua (1:4), telling us the desert referred to in the southern part of Eretz Yisroel is “מדבר קדש מדבר צין, which is next to Edom, in the southeast corner.” This might be what the Torah is alluding to when it says “they camped in מדבר צן which is קדש” (Bamidbar 33:36); not that they were in the city of קדש which is in the desert of צן, but that they were in the desert of צן which is also known as the desert of קדש.

If מדבר קדש is another name for מדבר צן, we can understand why the Torah tells us the מרגלים came back to “מדבר פארן קדשה,” as the nation was in the part of מדבר פארן that’s next to מדבר קדש. Similarly, when they stayed in “קדש” for 19 years (Devarim 1:46), it was next to קדש ברנע, which is in מדבר קדש, where the מרגלים started their ill-fated mission.


Rabbi Dov Kramer also posts his pieces on Jewish Geography at dmkjewishgeography.wordpress.com, where he sometimes adds paragraph headers, in an attempt to make them easier to read.

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