Ein Prat: A Window into our Past
BY SUSANNAH SCHILD
In the footsteps of our prophets
On a quiet day, the Ein Prat Nature Reserve is idyllic. A cool stream, known as Nachal Prat, flows through the middle of the reserve, nourishing plentiful fig trees, wild mint, purple flowers, and tall reeds. The sound of rushing water gently drifts through the air. Along the river there are magical hideaways, perfect for quiet contemplation. Crystal pools of water are plentiful at Ein Prat; some are tucked away in the shade of trees while others are framed on all sides by walls of alabaster rock. This little desert oasis in Judea is indisputably beautiful.
Only a half-hour from Jerusalem, the Ein Prat Nature Reserve has its fair share of visitors. Nature seekers can enter the reserve from several spots: at Ein Prat, Ein Maboa, Ein Kelt, and Ein Shaharit. But despite the reserve’s popularity, many people are unaware of the rich history of Nachal Prat, a history that illustrates our people’s age-old connection with the Land.
Like many other sites in Israel, you’ll find several ancient ruins around Nachal Prat. There are old aqueducts and Ottoman-era gates, ancient palaces and synagogues, and a monastery. But Nachal Prat is also explicitly referenced in the Tanach, most notably as the stream that flows by the city of Anatot (modern day Almon-Anatot), where Yirmiyahu the prophet lived and prophesied.
An almond rod
Anatot, an ancient Judean town located just above Nachal Prat, was a city of kohanim. Yirmiyahu lived in Anatot just before the destruction of the first Beit HaMikdash, and the natural terrain affected his life and prophecies.
In Yirmiyahu’s first prophetic vision, Hashem asks the awestruck prophet to identify a wooden rod. This rod is neither a branch of a tree nor a stick, but rather a finished and refined piece of wood, a makel, a walking stick. Yirmiyahu doesn’t hesitate. He promptly identifies the rod as having been made from an etz shaked, an almond tree, which symbolically represented the fate of our people. כִּי־שֹׁקֵד אֲנִי עַל־דְּבָרִי לַעֲשֹׂתוֹ, “For I will quickly bring My word to pass” (Yirmiyahu 1:12). The verb שֹׁקֵד denotes speed or haste; just as an almond tree is the first tree to blossom in springtime, calamitous events would soon unfold.
How did Yirmiyahu know so much about wood? With the exception of carpenters and woodworkers, most of us can’t identify a piece of almond wood merely by looking at its grain. The answer to this mystery lies near Yirmiyahu’s hometown in the valley of Prat. Visit Nachal Prat in January, and you’ll see a world of pale pink and white almond blossoms growing plentifully near the stream. Growing up near Nachal Prat, Yirmiyahu would have been familiar with the unique color and grain pattern of almond wood.
Between a rock and a hard place
In another powerful prophecy, Hashem asks Yirmiyahu to do something strange: “Take the belt that you bought, which is around your hips, and go at once to Prat and hide it there in a hole of rock” (Yirmiyahu 13:4). Modern-day commentators believe that the Prat referred to in this verse is our very own Nachal Prat, located in the valley below Almon-Anatot. It’s unlikely that Hashem sent Yirmiyahu on a metaphysical journey to the Euphrates River (as suggested by Rambam); it is far more likely that Yirmiyahu was sent on a short excursion to his own backyard – to Nachal Prat.
Once he reached the water, Yirmiyahu took his linen belt and placed it beneath a rock in the stream. It’s easy to imagine what this belt looked like when Yirmiyahu returned “many days” later. After being pummeled by the current of the stream, nibbled by fish, and worn thin by tough rock, the linen belt would have disintegrated into bits by the time of his return.
As Hashem explained to Yirmiyahu, the belt represented the people of Israel. Although the nation once served as G-d’s belt of splendor and glory, their sins would lead to their national disintegration, a painful fate for a formerly glorious people.
Rich with history and beauty
The history of Nachal Prat doesn’t end with Yirmiyahu. Generations later, after the Jewish people returned from the Babylonian exile to the Holy Land, the Maccabim fought their fourth battle against the Greeks near Nachal Prat. Following the battle, the Maccabim escaped into the recesses of Nachal Prat to hide from their enemies. With its caves and crevices and a constant fresh water supply, Nachal Prat was the perfect place for them to hide.
Later in history, after the Jewish people were once again exiled from the Land, Christian monks gravitated to Nachal Prat. The famous monk Haritoun, who later built a monastery in Nachal Tekoa near Jerusalem, built his first monastery along Nachal Prat – the perfect place to experience silence in nature and commune with G-d. The fresh water, plentiful figs and almonds, and caves that could be used for shelter made it even more appealing.
Visiting Nachal Prat today
The Ein Prat Nature Reserve is one of the most beautiful natural sites in the Jerusalem area. Appropriate for both low-key outings and serious hikes, it boasts a 20 kilometer path that leads from one side of the reserve to the other, alongside a crystal-clear stream.
In the summertime, cool water and shade offer a welcome escape from the Mediterranean heat. There are swimming and wading spots, jumping pools and waterfalls, and you can see many fish, birds, frogs, and other animals that gravitate towards this desert oasis.
Rich in biblical history, a trip to Nachal Prat is more than just a beautiful day out in nature. The Ein Prat Nature Reserve serves as a window into our past, the Tanach, and the lives of our forefathers.
Susannah Schild was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana, lives in Gush Etzion, and is the founder of hikingintheholyland.com, an inspiring guide for all who enjoy hiking in Israel.