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'You Had a Bad Day …'
King David was having a bad day. He and his army of 600 men had set off on a military mission, leaving all their wives and children behind in Ziklag. While they were gone, a wandering group of Amalekites came across the Israelite camp, took all the women and children captive, and burned everything else to the ground. When David's army returned, only smoldering ruins remained.
The men were furious, and wanted to stone the king. David himself was profoundly depressed, but he inquired of Hashem what he should do. "Pursue the Amalekites," he was told, so again the 600 set off. But by the time they reached the Brook Besor, 200 were so exhausted and dispirited they simply couldn't continue. They were too faint to cross the stream.
King David left the 200 there, and continued on with the remaining 400. A few days later, they came across an Egyptian - a lone wanderer who was near death from thirst and starvation. They fed him generously, and in gratitude, the Egyptian told them how to find the Amalekites camp. David's army recaptured the camp, and found all their women and children in perfect condition.
But the most important part of the story is this: A great victory celebration was under way, with the spoils from the Amalekites camp being divided. Some of the 400 demanded that none of the wealth be given to the 200 men who'd stayed behind. "They weren't with us," the 400 argued. "They don't deserve anything."
But David ruled otherwise. "Everything any of us have is a gift from God," he said, and ordered everything divided equally, even among those who had been too weak to cross the Brook Besor. By doing so, he established an important principle of justice, Jewish-style.
A Watery Oasis
Today, when you look at the Brook Besor, it's easy to see why lingering there, resting and recuperating, would have been tempting. The watery oasis, with its lush greenery and fascinating wildlife, is a welcome sight, situated as it is in the heart of the arid Negev Desert.
Wandering tourists still seek it out as the perfect place to step back for a few hours, to rest and relax from the sensory overload that all of Israel is, wherever you find yourself.
A large segment of Nahal Besor - in winter, a considerable body of water - is located within Eschol National Park, which, with 3,500 dunams (865 acres), is the second largest park in Israel. The surrounding area is actually Israel's largest wadi, or drainage area. During the rainy season, rain and runoff water flows through, coming from Rosh Zohar in the east, the Hebron Hills in the north, and the Negev mountains in the south.
Depending on rainfall, some 5 million to 15 million cubic meters of water gushes through the channel, with the resulting erosion carving out the wild, rugged terrain that characterizes the park.
Year-round, there are plenty of things to do - or you can simply admire the scenery and wildlife.
Just the sight of the several bodies of water - the river itself, plus spring-fed wading pools for munchkins, and a larger, meandering lake, as well as numerous marshy areas - is welcome if you've been wandering in the desert.
An enormous imaginatively equipped playground is a kid's paradise - exactly the right place to burn off excess energy. Picnic tables and barbecue units abound in many different types of scenery - near the water, close to the playgrounds, the swimming pool or in more private secluded areas. For midday heat, huge awnings offer shade.
Natural springs are another attraction, bubbling up from the earth and offering a spa-like experience. The spring pool typically remains at a pleasant 68 degrees.
Real Archaeological Finds
King David's men weren't the only ones to appreciate the Brook Besor. At the northern tip of the park is a small hill known by the Arabic name, Hirbat Shalala, which offers a wonderful view in return for an easy hike. During World War I, Austrian soldiers fought the Turkish Army here, and in the process discovered an amazing ruin of an ancient Byzantine church with an exquisite mosaic floor. Much of the floor is now on display in Canberra, but the ruins can still be explored.
Nor is the Byzantine church the only relic of ancient days: Near the center of the park, archaeologists uncovered evidence of an ancient city, Ein HaBesor, a prime stop on an Egyptian crossroads dating back as far as 400 BCE. For those interested in more modern history, the spring pools themselves have a past: The British army watered their horses there, and used the springs to feed their steam-driven locomotives. The concrete buildings they constructed to house the pumps still remain.
Walk on the Flat Side
If exercise appeals, you can walk or bike the entire perimeter of the park - about 12 miles. It's relatively flat, and offers a great chance to see not only the unique topography, but also a variety of local plants and wildlife.
Palm trees dominate, but there's also pistachio, olives, California peppers, tipuana trees and several varieties of acacia. In terms of wildlife, most fascinating are the colorful birds - hundreds of different species that inhabit the park or use it as a rest stop on their migratory path.
Almost 3,000 years ago, 200 of King David's army couldn't bring themselves to leave the Brook Besor - and by the king's order, they still shared in the wealth. In Hebrew, the word besor means "cheery," and a related word, besorah, means "tidings," or pleasant news.
Today, the good news for weary travelers remains the same: Linger as long as you like at the Brook Besor. The beauty of Israel is still God's gift to us all.
To learn more, visit: www. parks.org.il.