The King’s Highway, The Reality

In parashas Chuqas, Bamidbar 20:17, Moshe asks of the nation of Edom:

נַעְבְּרָה־נָּ֣א בְאַרְצֶ֗ךָ לֹ֤א נַעֲבֹר֙ בְּשָׂדֶ֣ה וּבְכֶ֔רֶם וְלֹ֥א נִשְׁתֶּ֖ה מֵ֣י בְאֵ֑ר דֶּ֧רֶךְ הַמֶּ֣לֶךְ נֵלֵ֗ךְ לֹ֤א נִטֶּה֙ יָמִ֣ין וּשְׂמֹ֔אול עַ֥ד אֲשֶֽׁר־נַעֲבֹ֖ר גְּבֻלֶֽךָ׃

Allow us, then, to cross your country. We will not pass through fields or vineyards, and we will not drink water from wells. We will follow the king’s highway, turning off neither to the right nor to the left until we have crossed your territory.”

This expression “Derekh haMelekh – the King’s Highway” is the name of something specific in the area. Here is a map, taken from Wikipedia:

Derekh haMelekh (in red)

Israel, being at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and Africa, was along some major trade routes. Two ran on either side, the Derekh haYam, the Sea Highway, on its Mediterranian coast, and the Derekh haMelekh along the shevatim in Trans-Jordan.

Edom sits between the Gulf of Eilat and the Dead Sea, so that portion of the Derekh haMelekh ran through their territory. But it was a heavily trafficked caravan route. The Jews were far more people than usual, but the route Edom denied us was in constant use. There wasn’t a novel violation of Edomi sovereignty or a risk to their agriculture.

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