Parashat Beshalach (A)
Yehoshua Bin-nun: A Life (I)
"THAT THE TORAH OF HASHEM SHOULD BE IN YOUR MOUTH"
Parashat Bo (last week's reading) is the first to introduce Mitzvot which
are an expression of the unique and exclusive relationship between God and
the B'nei Yisra'el (note the comments of Rashi on B'resheet 1:1). Along with
the many details regarding the Korban Pesach (which we hope to revisit in
anticipation of Pesach later this year), the commemoration of the Exodus is
marked with the obligation to sanctify the first-born (people and animals),
celebrate the anniversary of the Exodus by feasting for seven days, avoiding
Hametz and relating the story to our children - and by wearing T'fillin.
(all found in Sh'mot 13:1-16). It is the reason given for this final
Mitzvah that I'd like to address this week as a springboard for entering
into a discussion which properly belongs to next week's Parashah. Since it
is, however, a two-part essay, we will begin our analysis this week in order
to complete it in a timely fashion.
In defining the purpose of T'fillin, the Torah states:
In order that the Torah of Hashem shall be in your mouth (13:9).
Although the most straightforward understanding of this phrase relates to
the following phrase:
"that Hashem your God took you out of Egypt with a strong hand",
nonetheless, it is Halakhically understood as relating to the entire Torah.
Thus, for instance, the Midrash Halakhah states:
"...in order that the Torah of Hashem should be in your mouth" - based on
this text, the Rabbis stated that anyone who puts on T'fillin is considered
as if he studied the Torah and anyone who studies the Torah is exempt from
T'fillin. (Mekhilta Bo #17 - see Shulhan Arukh OC 38:10).
Note that the Mekhilta did not limit this Halakhah to someone studying about
the Exodus - any study of Torah exempts one from wearing T'fillin.
Regardless of how this Halakhah is practically understood and applied, the
Halakhah understands that the verse is referring to the overall study of
Torah and engagement in God's law.
Although there are a few mentions of the importance of engagement in Torah
study in the Torah itself, the clearest and most powerful expression in
T'nakh is found in the opening section of Sefer Yehoshua:
This Book of the Torah shall not depart from your mouth; but you shall
meditate on it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all
that is written on it; for then you shall make your way prosperous, and then
you shall have good success. (1:8)
This command, given to Yehoshua, sets an important tone for this Sefer - one
to which we will return in next week's essay.
In the meantime, since we first meet Yehoshua in this week's Parashah, let's
take this opportunity to analyze - if only briefly - this first post-Toraic
Navi and hero of the conquest of Eretz K'na'an.
When we are first introduced to Yehoshua, we are given neither biographical
background nor a resume which would explain his qualifications for being
appointed by Mosheh to defend the B'nei Yisra'el against the attack of the
Then came Amalek, and fought with Yisra'el in Rephidim. And Mosheh said to
Yehoshua, Choose for us men, and go out, fight with Amalek; tomorrow I will
stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand. So Yehoshua did
as Mosheh had said to him, and fought with Amalek; and Mosheh, Aharon, and
Hur went up to the top of the hill... (Sh'mot 17:8-10)
Note that we do not even know his patronym nor his tribal affiliation - he
is just "Yehoshua".
Although we later find out that he had a shorter name (Hoshea - Bamidbar
13:16), that his father's name is "Nun" (Sh'mot 33:11)and that he is an
Ephraimite (Bamidbar 13:8), we learn very little else about him until Mosheh
is told that Yehoshua will be the next "shepherd" of the B'nei Yisra'el and
some of his leadership qualities (Bamidbar 27:18-20). It is only through the
unfolding of Sefer Yehoshua itself that we get a complete picture of the son
of Nun, Mosheh's disciple and the man who leads the B'nei Yisra'el through
what is arguably the pinnacle of their military strength.
We will frame this essay by raising two questions about Yehoshua (both the
man and the Sefer)which arise from the final chapter of that book. In
Chapter 24 (best known for its historiosophy [vv. 2-13], a section of which
[vv. 2-4]is incorporated into the Haggadah shel Pessach), set in Sh'khem,
Yehoshua brings the B'nei Yisra'el into a covenant with God just before his
death. We are then told:
And Yehoshua wrote these words B'sefer Torat Elokim (in the Book of the
Torah of God)... (v. 26)
What could this phrase possibly mean? Does it mean that "Sefer Torat Elokim"
is a reference to some other book, besides the Five Books of Mosheh (so Y.
Kil in Da'at Mikra among other contemporary scholars)? Does the prefix "B"
indicate that Yehoshua wrote the conditions of the covenant on a scroll and
rolled it inside of the Torah of Mosheh (so Rashi, quoting the Targum)?
In any case, this text needs clarification.
There is a more enigmatic verse near the conclusion of the Sefer. After the
death and burial of Yehoshua, we are told that:
And the bones of Yoseph, which the B'nei Yisr'ael brought out of Egypt,
buried they in Sh'khem, in a parcel of ground which Ya'akov bought from the
sons of Hamor the father of Sh'khem for a hundred pieces of silver; and it
became the inheritance of the sons of Yoseph.
We know that the B'nei Yisra'el carried Yoseph's bones through the desert
(see Sh'mot 13:19) in order to inter them in K'na'an (see B'resheet 50:25) -
but why did they wait until after the death of Yehoshua to do so?
From all of the information we can glean from the text, Yehoshua was
approximately 80 years old at the time of the conquest (see Yehoshua
14:6-10, especially v. 7) - and he died at the age of 110 (24:29). Why did
the B'nei Yisra'el keep Yoseph's bones "on ice" for those thirty years and
only inter him in Sh'khem after the death and burial of Yehoshua? This
question is exacerbated by the fact that the B'nei Yisra'el held a major
covenant ceremony upon their arrival in the land - again at Sh'khem. Even if
Yoseph's final resting place was pre-determined as Sh'khem, they had been
there fairly soon after crossing the Yarden - why wait until Yehoshuah's
career was over before interring Yoseph?
BACK TO YOSEPH AND HIS DREAMS
In order to answer these questions - and, thereby, gain a greater
understanding of the role of Yehoshua within Israelite history - we need to
go back to the first significant interaction between Yoseph (Yehoshua's
ancestor) and his brothers:
As we know (and have discussed in an earlier essay), Yoseph was involved in
three sets of dreams - each set consisting of two dreams:
1) His own dreams, presented below (B'resheet 37)
2) His successful interpretation of the dreams of the butler and baker
3) His successful interpretation of the two dreams of Pharaoh
Even a cursory look at these three sets reveals that the first two dreams
bear little in common with the two latter sets. Each of the latter sets was
clearly understood by all involved as a form of prophecy - and each of the
details was meticulously interpreted by Yoseph - and each of those
interpretive details came to pass. Note, for instance, Ramban's comments at
the beginning of Ch. 41, (v. 4) where he points out that even Yoseph's
"advice" to Pharaoh was part of the dream interpretation.
The three days, the seven years, the "fat" and "emaciated" stalks and cows,
the basket on the baker's head - all of this is accounted for in the
interpretation - and every detail comes to pass exactly "as Yoseph had
interpreted to them".
This clear and direct interpretive process stands in clear contradistinction
to the two dreams dreamt by Yoseph himself:
And Yoseph dreamed a dream, and he told it to his brothers; and they hated
him even more. And he said to them:
Hear, I beg you, this dream which I have dreamed;
For, behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and, lo, my sheaf arose,
and also stood upright; and, behold, your sheaves stood around, and made
obeisance to my sheaf.
And his brothers said to him, Shall you indeed reign over us? or shall you
indeed have dominion over us? And they hated him even more for his dreams,
and for his words.
And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brothers, and said,
Behold, I have again dreamed a dream; and, behold, the sun and the moon and
the eleven stars made obeisance to me.
And he told it to his father, and to his brothers; and his father rebuked
him, and said to him, What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and
your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow down ourselves to you to
And his brothers envied him; but his father kept the matter in mind.
Besides the painful questions that must be addressed regarding the wisdom of
Yoseph's revealing these dreams to his brothers - which will be assessed in
a later study - the simplest question to ask here is - when are these
dreams ever realized? Do the brothers ever bow to Yoseph? Certainly the
second dream seems to "fall flat" - for mother isn't even alive (see Rashi
ad loc., quoting BT Berakhot) and father certainly never "bows down
[himself] to the earth".
Besides the issue of the fulfillment of the dream, there is another question
to ask here. It is clear why the prisoners had two dreams - each had his
own dream, relating to his own future - and the import of each dream was
diametrically opposite. It is also explicitly stated why Pharaoh had two
And for that the dream was doubled to Pharaoh twice; it is because the
matter is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass. (41:32)
Why, however, did Yoseph have two dreams - two dreams with essentially the
same message? If we are to focus on the addition of father and mother (the
sun and moon) in the second dream, why not just grant Yoseph that one dream,
which includes the subjugation of his brothers?
RAV SAMET'S EXPLANATION
Rav Elhanan Samet, of Makhon Herzog, suggests that we are misled in our
understanding of Yosephs' dreams because we assume that the
reactive-interpretations of both brothers and father are accurate. To wit,
we believe that both dreams foretell Yoseph's future role as "king" of the
family and that his brothers, father and mother(!) will bow to him in
subjugation. That understanding seems to be adopted by Yoseph himself, as
reflected by the evocation of these dreams when the brothers appear before
him in Egypt:
And Yoseph knew his brothers, but they knew not him. And Yoseph remembered
the dreams which he dreamed of them, (42:8-9)
Rashi, ad loc., comments that now Yoseph saw the dreams fulfilled, since his
brothers were bowing to him. Ramban disagrees and maintains that as a result
of Yoseph remembering the dreams, he realized that they were not yet
fulfilled, since father was not yet here, nor were all the brothers. (Ramban
utilizes this interpretation to defend Yoseph against the claim that he
erred in not notifying his father that he was alive and well. See the
Akedat Yitzhak ad loc. for a critique of Ramban's approach).
One could argue that the brothers never did bow to Yoseph -for even when
they bowed to the Egyptian governor, they did not know of his identity. The
essence of subjugation lies in awareness - the slave prostrates himself
before his liege because he is aware that that selfsame ruler is his master.
If the brothers bowed to the Egyptian Tzaph'nat Pa'aneach, that seems to
have little, if anything, to do with the fulfillment of these dreams.
The only time that they knowingly bowed to Yoseph was after father Ya'akov's
death (50:18) - and it seems difficult to see this act, over 40 years after
Yoseph's dreams, as having anything to do with them.
Rav Samet suggests that we err in understanding Yoseph's dreams as the
brothers did - because we aren't paying sufficient attention to "dream
language". Since we accept the notion that the sheaves, stars, sun and moon
are all symbolic - why are we assuming that the prostration is literal? If
we interpret the dreams consistently, than we should understand the
prostration of the family members as a symbolic act.
What, then, could their bowing to brother Yoseph symbolize?
Although bowing often indicates subservience, we find numerous occasions
where it has other uses. For instance, Avraham bows to the Hittites twice
during his negotiations for the Cave of Makhpelah (23:7,12) - and Avraham
certainly did not accept their dominion (they called him a prince). We also
find that Ya'akov bowed to Yoseph (albeit without prostration - he was in
bed) when Yoseph committed to burying Ya'akov in K'na'an (47:31).
In other words, the act of bowing within T'nakh context may indicate
appreciation and dependence - without implying subservience or servitude.
Let's see how this understanding of "prostration" (in dream language) plays
out in an interpretation of Yoseph's dreams:
A: THE FIRST DREAM
The first dream, involving the sheaves, has clear literary "markers" which
set off three independent scenes - each introduced with the word "Hinei":
1) For, behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and,
2) lo, my sheaf arose, and also stood upright; and,
3) behold, your sheaves stood around, and made obeisance to my sheaf.
The framework and setting of this dream are clear - the field, representing
agriculture and sustenance.
In the first scene, the brothers are all working together - representing a
common economic venture. This is most plainly understood as representing the
period of "the present" - when the entire family is still working as one
cohesive financial unit.
In the second scene, only Yoseph is present - the brothers are "off-stage".
In other words, there will be a period in the future when Yoseph will
comprise an independent financial unit, separate from that of the family.
This sheaf rises and stands upright - implying consistent and stable
financial success in this new, independent position.
The final scene (the focus of the brothers' angry reaction) has the brothers
(represented by their sheaves) bowing to Yoseph (represented by his sheaf.
Once we understand "bowing" as symbolizing a relationship of dependence, we
can clearly see the complete realization of this dream. When Yoseph finally
revealed himself to his brothers, one of the first things he said was:
And there will I nourish you; (45:11).
Again, after the burial of Ya'akov:
Now therefore do not fear; I will nourish you, and your little ones. (50:21)
The entire family was totally dependent on Yoseph for their sustenance - a
role he was only too happy to fulfill.
We might even argue that this "enlightened" understanding of the meaning of
the dreams occurred to Yoseph when his brothers came before his throne:
And Yoseph remembered the dreams which he dreamed of them, (42:9)
The word "Lahem" (of them) may be translated "about them"; to wit: he
remembered the dreams that he dreamt about his brothers. It may,
alternatively, be understood as "on their behalf", meaning "he remembered
the dreams that he dreamt for them." In other words, Yoseph now understood
that he had risen to this great position in order to help the family out of
their present financial crisis (see our essay on Parashat Vayyigash this year).
The first dream is not only less threatening to the brothers, but every
detail comes true.
B: THE SECOND DREAM
Beside the shift from the agricultural to the cosmic arena (and the apparent
inclusion of father and mother), the second dream is distinct from the first
in that Yoseph is consistently represented as himself. The stars bow - not
to Yoseph's star, rather to Yoseph himself.
If we are to explain these dreams with the same rigorous attention to detail
as Yoseph employs in interpreting dreams in Egypt, we must take this nuance
into account. In addition to this, we must also address the overall
question of what new message this dream is conveying; otherwise, what need
is there for a second dream?
Again, we must focus on the setting of the dream: The stars above. What do
the stars represent in Sefer B'resheet (and throughout T'nakh)? The answer
is quite simple: The stars represent the B'nei Yisra'el. Note B'resheet
22:17 (Avraham), 26:4 (Yitzhak), Sh'mot 32:13 (the Avot as a group), D'varim
[Parenthetic note: Although the B'nei Yisra'el are also compared, in their
vast numbers, to the sand by the shore (e.g. B'resheet 22:17, 32:16, Hoshea
2:1), Haza"l sensitively point out that these do not reflect the same type
This people is likened to the dust and it is likened to the stars. When they
go down, they go down to the dust, and when they rise they rise to the
stars. [BT Megillah 16a]
The comparison to the stars is, therefore, not just about the sheer
multitude of Avraham's children - it is about their greatness, nobility and
achievement of the objectives of that great blessing.)
Once we take this symbolism into account, the meaning of the second dream -
and its significance independent of the first dream - becomes apparent.
Again utilizing our interpretation that in dreamspeak prostration implies a
dependence, the second dream means that the success of the family, as the
continuation of the Avrahamic tribe and tradition, will be wholly dependent
(at least at one point in time) on Yoseph.
Here is where the difference between the dreams, noted above, comes into
play. Whereas Yoseph was represented by a sheaf in the first dream - putting
him on somewhat equal billing (if not footing) as his kin, in the second
dream they are all represented by heavenly bodies while Yoseph appears as
The meaning becomes quite clear when we understand that the message of this
dream is that Yoseph will be the one responsible for managing, maintaining
and ensuring the success of the family in their noblest and most critical
endeavor: Being a blessing for all of Mankind (B'resheet 12:3).
Indeed, upon the descent of the family to Egypt (B'resheet 46), Yoseph uses
his position and cunning to create favorable conditions for the family to
prosper - spiritually as well as economically - in their new environs. When
presenting his brothers to Pharaoh, Yoseph advises them:
And it shall come to pass, when Pharaoh shall call you, and shall say, What
is your occupation? That you shall say, Your servants’ trade has been
keeping cattle from our youth until now, both we, and also our fathers; that
you may live in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd is an abomination to
the Egyptians. (46:33-34)
We now understand why Yoseph appears "as himself" in the second dream. It is
not Yoseph as a "symbol" or as a figurehead that will ensure the survival
and success of the family; rather, it is Yoseph as a person, using his own
personality, charm and cunning, who will help keep the family alive.
This is most clearly seen in Yoseph's final words:
And Yoseph said to his brothers, I die; and God will surely visit you, and
bring you out of this land to the land which he swore to Avraham, to
Yitzhak, and to Ya'akov. And Yoseph took an oath from the B'nei Yisra'el,
saying, God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from
here. (50:24-25). How powerful a statement: It is Yoseph, the man who
succeeded in Egypt like no other foreigner could have, the man who
engineered the family's descent and resettlement there - it is that selfsame
Yoseph who keeps the dream alive and reminds his brothers that "this is not
home" and that God will surely bring them back home.
THE SUN AND THE MOON
The section above is a synopsis (faithful, I hope) of Rav Samet's
explanation of Yoseph's dreams.
There is one major problem with his explanation - the role of the sun and
the moon. Although it would be tempting to accept his explanation - that the
success not only of the children but also of their parents - is dependent on
Yoseph, I believe that this is insufficient. If we accept the stars as
symbolic of the B'nei Yisra'el, then the sun and moon have no place in their
orbit. Although the sun and moon appear as the chief heavenly bodies
throughout T'nakh (e.g. B'resheet 1:16, T'hillim 148:3, Iyyov 9:7), they are
never associated with the B'nei Yisra'el.
The answer to this final "missing piece" of the puzzle of Yoseph's dreams is
found much later in Israelite history. Whereas the "sheaf" dream is
fulfilled rather immediately - within the lives of all who were originally
involved with the dream - the "stars" dream is only realized after a number
Before suggesting a solution to this puzzle, I'd like to point out one last
anomaly - this time at the end of Sefer B'resheet:
And Yoseph lived in Egypt, he, and his father’s house; and Yoseph lived a
hundred and ten years…So Yoseph died, being a hundred and ten years old;
Why does the text mention his life-span twice within a matter of five
verses? Even Mosheh, whose age of 120 becomes the archetype for the life of
an extraordinary person (e.g. Rabbi Akiva), only has his final age mentioned
once (D'varim 34:7. Mosheh does own up to his age in his farewell speech -
[31:2], but that is a full three chapters away and within the context of his
speech. Yoseph is still the only person in Torah whose age at death is
mentioned by the text twice).
I'd like to suggest that although Yoseph died in Egypt at the age of 110,
his mission (as laid out in the dreams) was not yet complete and would not
be complete until the B'nei Yisra'el were brought back to Eretz Yisra'el as
This mission would only be accomplished through his descendant, Yehoshua
bin-Nun, of the tribe of Ephraim - who lived to the ripe old age of 110.
BACK TO YESHOSHUA
Although Yehoshua had the allegiance of all of the tribes of Yisra'el - more
so than any leader since - his greatest moment was undoubtedly during the
battle against the alliance of the five southern kings, as their armies fled
the B'nei Yisra'el down the slopes of Beit Horon:
Then spoke Joshua to Hashem in the day when Hashem delivered the Amorites
before the people of Yisra'el, and he said in the sight of Yisra'el,
Sun, stand still upon Gibeon; and you, Moon, in the valley of Ayalon.
And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged
themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the Book of Yashar?
So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hastened not to go down
about a whole day.
And there was no day like that before it or after it, when Hashem listened
to the voice of a man; for Hashem fought for Yisra'el. (Yehoshua 10:12-14)
There was never a man to whom the sun and moon showed obeisance - save
Yehoshua bin-Nun, a member of the tribe of Ephraim, a son of Yoseph.
We now understand why Yoseph's bones were kept with Yehoshua's army until
his storied career came to a close. Yehoshua's task was Yoseph's - that
which the ancestor had begun, the descendant had to complete.
We also understand why there is a veiled reference to the possible inclusion
of Sefer Yehoshua in the canon of Torah at the end of the Sefer:
And Yehoshua wrote these words B'sefer Torat Elokim
since Yehoshua's mission was the completion of the task of that hero of
Sefer B'resheet, his ancestor Yoseph.
Although Sefer Yehoshua remains outside of the Torah, the many textual and
thematic associations which bind it to the Humash will be the focus of next
week's shiur, as we attempt to understand Yehoshua, the man, the leader and
the disciple of Moshe Rabbenu.
In the critical section from Yehoshua 10 quoted above, the text states that
this story and/or prayer/song was written in Sefer haYashar. What is this book?
Most scholars follow Ibn Ezra's lead (Bamidbar 21:14) that the T'nakh text
will refer to Sefarim that existed at the time of the T'nakh and are lost to
us (e.g. Sefer Milhamot Hashem, Sefer haYashar, Sefer haShir), Haza"l
interpret Sefer haYashar as referring to any number of books within the
canon. In the central Talmudic section, the first assay is:
What is the Sefer haYashar? — Said R. Hiyya b. Abba in the name of R.
Yohanan: It is the book of Avraham, Yitzhak and Ya'akov, who are designated
as Yesharim (righteous), (BT Avodah Zarah 25a)
Although the Gemara goes on to find a faint allusion to the miracle of the
sun and moon standing still, I'd like to suggest that if Sefer haYashar is
indeed Sefer B'resheet, the text is quite clear in asking: Is it not written
in Sefer haYashar?
Indeed, it is clearly written:
Behold, I have again dreamed a dream; and, behold, the sun and the moon and
the eleven stars made obeisance to me.
From: Yitzchak Etshalom
To: P'shuto Shel Mikra
Subject: "Mikra - Parashat Beshalach: Introducing - Yehoshua (Part 2)"
Parashat Beshalach (B)
Yehoshua Bin-nun: A Life(II)
THE APPEARANCE OF YEHOSHUA…
ON THE STAGE OF HISTORY
In the first installment of this week's shiur, we analyzed some enigmatic
passages in the final chapter of Sefer Yehoshua - notably the delay of
Yoseph's interment until after the passing of Yehoshua. In this second half
of the shiur, as promised, I would like to further investigate the life and
career of Mosheh's disciple, the great leader who brought us into Eretz
Yisra'el - Yehoshua bin-Nun.
We first meet Yehoshua in this week's Parashah:
Then came Amalek, and fought with Yisra'el in Rephidim. And Mosheh said to
Yehoshua, Choose for us men, and go out, fight with Amalek; tomorrow I will
stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand. So Yehoshua did
as Mosheh had said to him, and fought with Amalek; and Mosheh, Aharon, and
Hur went up to the top of the hill. And it came to pass, when Mosheh held up
his hand, that Yisra'el prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek
prevailed. But Mosheh’s hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it
under him, and he sat on it; and Aharon and Hur stayed up his hands, the one
on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady
until the going down of the sun. And Yehoshua discomfited Amalek and his
people with the edge of the sword.
And Hashem said to Mosheh, Write this for a memorial in a book, and recite
it in the ears of Yehoshua; for I will completely put out the remembrance of
Amalek from under heaven. And Mosheh built an altar, and called its name
Hashem-Nissi. For he said, Because Hashem has sworn that Hashem will have
war with Amalek from generation to generation.
We will yet return to this passage as we continue to assay Yehoshua's
successful leadership of Am Yisra'el.
There are two wondrous and famed miracles associated with Yehoshua bin-Nun.
By far the most well-known (gospel afficianados will appreciate this one) is
the implosion of the walls of Yericho - an event we will revisit further on.
The second great wonder is recounted in Yehoshua 10. An alliance of five
K'na'ani kings had attacked the Giv'onim, who had deceptively gotten the
B'nei Yisra'el to sign a mutual protection treaty. The likely reason for the
attack on the Giv'onim, besides punishing them for their treachery in
allying with the B'nei Yisra'el (some things don't change), was to
effectively lure Yehoshua's army into battle.
The text relates:
So Yehoshua ascended from Gilgal, he, and all the people of war with him,
and all the mighty men of valor. And Hashem said to Yehoshua, Fear them not;
for I have delivered them to your hand; there shall not a man of them stand
before you. Yehoshua therefore came to them suddenly, and went up from
Gilgal all night. And Hashem struck them with confusion before Yisra'el, and
slew them with a great slaughter at Giv'on, and chased them along the way
that ascends to Beth-Horon, and struck them as far as Azekah, and Makkedah.
And it came to pass, as they fled from before Yisra'el, and were in the
descent to Beth-Horon, that Hashem threw down great stones from heaven upon
them as far as Azekah, and they died; there were more who died from
hailstones than there were killed with the sword by the people of Yisra'el.
(Yehoshua 10:7-11 - this event directly precedes the famous passage - which
was a focal point of last week's essay - in which Yehoshua "stops the sun".
He did so in order to continue the rout of these kings and their armies)
I would like to pose two questions relating to this passage:
1) Why did God use hail to defeat the enemy here; first of all, it
seems that Yehoshua was doing quite well before this overt Divine
intercession. Second, there are more "customary" methods in which God
intervenes in such situations - e.g. creating mass confusion among the enemy
camp (e.g. Sh'mot 14:24, Shoftim 4:15, ibid. 7:22). Why use hailstones - an
unprecedented and never repeated form of Divine battle?
2) Although the text reveals that the Heavenly projectiles were hail,
they were first called "stones": Hashem threw down Avanim Gedolot (great
stones) from heaven upon them as far as Azekah, and they died; there were
more who died from Avnei haBarad (hailstones) than there were killed with
the sword by the people of Yisra'el. Why are they first called "Avanim"
(stones) if in the same verse they are called hail?
The first Mishnah in the final chapter of Massechet Berakhot details the
obligation to give thanks to God when happening upon a place where a miracle
took place. The Gemara quotes a Baraita which provides a list of locations
where miracles took place:
Our Rabbis taught: If one sees the place of the crossing of the Reed Sea, or
the fords of the Yarden, or the fords of the streams of Arnon, or Avnei
Algabish in the descent of Beit Horon, or the stone which Og king of Bashan
wanted to throw at Yisra'el, or the stone on which Mosheh sat when Yehoshua
fought with Amalek, or [the pillar of salt of] Lot's wife, or the wall of
Yericho which sank into the ground, for all of these he should give
thanksgiving and praise to the Almighty…
The Gemara analyzes each of these locations. In assessing the significance
(and meaning) of Avnei Algabish, the Gemara comments:
What are Avnei Algabish? A Tanna taught: Stones [Avanim] which remained
suspended for the sake of a man [Al Gav Ish] and came down for the sake of a
man. ‘They remained suspended for the sake of a man’: this was Mosheh, of
whom it is written, Now the man Mosheh was very meek, and it is also
written, And the soldiers and hail ceased, and the rain poured not upon the
earth. ‘They came down for the sake of a man’: this was Yehoshua, of whom it
is written, Take thee Yehoshua bin Nun, a man in whom there is spirit, and
it is written, And it came to pass as they fled from before Yisra'el, while
they were at the descent of Beit-Horon, that Hashem cast down Avanim
G'dolot. (BT Berakhot 54a-b)
3) Why are these rocks, which fell in Morad Beit-Horon (a place Mosheh
never reached), associated with Mosheh? These stones fell in the Yehoshuan
war against the southern kings, well after Mosheh had passed on - and passed
the mantle of leadership to Yehoshua.
Although these questions focus on one particular - albeit outstanding and
awe-inspiring - event in the storied career of Yehoshua bin-Nun, we will
need to deepen our appreciation of the development of this general cum Navi
in order to properly respond. Thereby, we will not only provide an
explanation for the oddities associated with the Heavenly Hail, but also -
and more to our point - gain a fresh and enhanced understanding of the
unfolding of this first Sefer of N'vi'im.
"ON THE DAY THAT YOU CROSS THE YARDEN"
Before beginning our inquiry, I'd like to pose one more question, relating
to the sequence of events in Sefer Yehoshua.
To illuminate the question, here is an outline of the first third of the Sefer:
Appointment of Yehoshua
sent to Yericho
Preparation for crossing the Yarden
Crossing the Yarden, setting up of commemorative stones
Milah and Korban Pesach in Gilgal
Conquest of Yericho
attempt to conquer Ha'Ai
Conquest of Ha'ai, Construction of altar at Har Eval
As can be seen, the first two chapters take place on the East Bank of the
Yarden, the next two describe the process of crossing the Yarden - and from
that point on, the B'nei Yisra'el remain (until the very end of Sefer
M'lakhim) "between the (Yarden) river and the (Meditteranean) sea".
Following the sequence of events as presented here, from the time that the
B'nei Yisra'el cross the Yarden until they arrive at Har Eval, construct the
altar and complete this inauguration ceremony (see below), at least several
weeks elapse. The text testifies that the people crossed the Yarden on the
tenth of the first month (Aviv/Nissan) (4:19). They continue on to Gilgal,
perform B'rit Milah and the Korban Pesach (on the 14th of the month),
followed by the week-long preparation for the conquest of Yericho (cf.
6:3-4). Subsequent to the vanquishing of Yericho, spies are sent to Ha'Ai
(7:2), the initial foray is repelled (7:5), Yehoshua prays to God and the
traitor Achan is identified via a process that certainly took most of a day.
Finally, the B'nei Yisra'el attack Ha'Ai, circling the city at night and
attacking the next day. It is only after the destruction of Ha'Ai that the
people ascend Har Eval for the covenant ceremony, as presented at the end of
Even if we allow that the conquest of Yericho began during Hag haMatzot, we
still have at least two full weeks at the absolute minimum between the
crossing of the Yarden and the covenant ceremony on Har Eval.
This is, in and of itself, not bothersome - until we look into Sefer D'varim
and note the command regarding this ceremony. Compare:
And Mosheh with the elders of Yisra'el commanded the people, saying, Keep
all the commandments which I command you this day. And it shall be on the
day when you shall pass over the Yarden to the land which Hashem your God
gives you, that you shall set you up great stones, and plaster them with
plaster; And you shall write upon them all the words of this Torah, when you
have passed over, that you may go in to the land which Hashem your God gives
you, a land that flows with milk and honey; as Hashem God of your fathers
has promised you. Therefore it shall be when you have gone over the Yarden,
that you shall set up these stones, which I command you this day, in Mount
Eval, and you shall plaster them with plaster. And there shall you build an
altar to Hashem your God, an altar of stones; you shall not lift up any iron
tool upon them. You shall build the altar of Hashem your God of whole
stones; and you shall offer burnt offerings on it to Hashem your God; And
you shall offer peace offerings, and shall eat there, and rejoice before
Hashem your God. And you shall write upon the stones all the words of this
Torah very plainly.(Devarim 27:1-8)
Then Yehoshua built an altar to Hashem God of Yisra'el in Mount Eval, As
Mosheh the servant of Hashem commanded the people of Yisra'el, as it is
written in the Book of the Torah of Mosheh, an altar of whole stones, over
which no man has lifted up any iron; and they offered on it burnt offerings
to Hashem, and sacrificed peace offerings. And he wrote there upon the
stones a copy of the Torah of Mosheh, which he wrote in the presence of the
people of Yisra'el. And all Yisra'el, and their elders, and officers, and
their judges, stood on this side of the ark and on that side before the
priests, the Levites, who carried the Ark of the Covenant of Hashem, the
foreigner as well as he who was born among them; half of them over opposite
Mount Gerizim, and half of them over opposite Mount Eval; as Mosheh the
servant of Hashem had commanded before, that they should bless the people of
Yisra'el. And afterwards he read all the words of the Torah, the blessings
and curses, according to all that is written in the Book of the Torah. There
was not a word of all that Mosheh commanded, which Yehoshua did not read
before all the congregation of Yisra'el, with the women, and the little
ones, and the foreigners who lived among them. (Yehoshua 8:30-35)
It is quite clear that the ceremony described at the end of the 8th chapter
of Yehoshua is the fulfillment of the Mitzvah given in D'varim - but note v.
2 in D'varim:
And it shall be on the day when you shall pass over the Yarden
4) Why didn't Yehoshua lead the people directly from the Yarden to Har
Eval on the 10th of Nisan?
The Tosefta, ignoring the sequence in Sefer Yehoshua, comments:
Come and see how many miracles were performed on that day. Israel crossed
the Jordan, came to mount Gerizim and mount Ebal [thus traversing a distance
of] more than sixty mil, …After that they brought the stones, built the
altar, and plastered it with plaster, and inscribed thereon all the words of
the Torah in seventy languages… Then they sacrificed Olot and Sh'lamim, ate
and drank and rejoiced, pronounced the blessings and the curses, packed up
the stones, and came and lodged in Gilgal; as it is said: Carry them over
with you and lay them down in the lodging place. (Tosefta Sotah 8:6)
Although this passage solves the problem of the timing of the ceremony at
Har Eval, it leaves a greater question - why is the text presented out of
order. In other words, if the ceremony took place on the day of the
Yarden-crossing, why isn't it described at the end of Chapter 4? Why are the
B'rit Milah, Korban Pesach, conquest of Yericho, defeat at Ha'Ai,
identification of Achan and the successful rout of Ha'Ai written before the
description of this ceremony?
Whether or not we accept the Tosefta's approach (see Rashi and Radak at
8:30) we are left with a problem. Either the ceremony happened much later
than it was to have - or it is written as if it happened later. Why doesn't
the sequence conform to Mosheh's command?
Regarding the placement of this text, one of the Qumran scrolls (4QJosh.a)
records the ceremony at Har Eval before the B'rit Milah (at the end of Ch.
5). LXXb, on the other hand, places it after the beginning of Chapter 9.
Josephus (Ant. V 1:19) suggests that this event took place after all of the
wars of conquest (i.e. after Chapter 11) and there are others who suggest
that its proper placement is in Chapter 24, which takes place in Sh'chem.
This wide range of opinions and approaches demonstrates the difficulty with
the location in the Masoretic text - a difficulty we will try to resolve.
Now that we have laid out our questions, we are ready to analyze the
development of Yehoshua - and developments within [Sefer] Yehoshua - which
will eventually help us resolve all of them.
A FINAL QUESTION
When Yehoshua leads the people into the Yarden, he is commanded by God to
appoint a representative from each tribe to take a boulder from the dried-up
river bed and to set it up in the lodging where they sleep that night
(4:2-3). Along with fulfilling this command, Yehoshua sets up another 12
rocks in the Yarden itself (4:9). He then orchestrates the Milah of Yisra'el
- using sharpened flintrocks (5:2). Rocks (or boulders) continue to appear
in the narrative - including the stone walls of Yericho which fall (6:20),
the rocks used to bury various enemies (e.g. 7:26, 8:29, 19:27), the
near-civil war caused by the construction of the Giladite altar (22:10) and
the "rock-witness" to B'nei Yisra'el's acceptance of the B'rit (24:26).
This, of course, in addition to the Avanim Gedolot cast down by God as the
army chased its enemiy down the slopes of Beit Horon.
Our final question:
5) Why do rocks play such a central role in the Yehoshua narrative?
YEHOSHUA MESHARET MOSHEH
The opening lines of Sefer Yehoshua reveal a difficulty in the transition of
leadership which will occupy the first third of the Sefer - at least as a
And it was after the death of Mosheh the servant of Hashem that Hashem spoke
to Yehoshua bin-Nun, Mosheh’ minister, saying, Mosheh My servant is dead;
now therefore arise, cross over the Yarden, you, and all this people, to the
land which I give to them, to the people of Yisra'el. Every place that the
sole of your foot shall tread upon, that I have given to you, as I said to
Mosheh. From the wilderness and this L'vanon to the great river, the river
Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and to the Great Sea toward the
going down of the sun, shall be your border. No man shall be able to stand
before you all the days of your life; as I was with Mosheh, so I will be
with you; I will not fail you, nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous;
for you shall cause this people to inherit the land, which I swore to their
fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, that you may
observe to do according to all the Torah, which Mosheh My servant commanded
you; turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper
wherever you go. (Yehoshua 1:1-7)
Yehoshua is asked to fill the void left by Mosheh - to step into the shoes
of the greatest teacher and leader ever known. The powerful distinction
between the two is adumbrated in the opening line - Mosheh is Eved Hashem
(the servant of God), whereas Yehoshua is Mesharet Mosheh - the "minister"
of Mosheh. In addition, Mosheh's name is mentioned 6 times in this brief
section - establishing the challenge which Yehoshua will face as he steps
into the role of leader.
It seems both reasonable and implicit in the text that Yehoshua was
concerned with his ability to lead the people. God reassures him that:
as I was with Mosheh, so I will be with you; (1:5, 3;7);
The text tells us that
On that day Hashem magnified Yehoshua in the sight of all Yisra'el; and they
feared him, as they feared Mosheh, all the days of his life. (4:14)
And the members of Gad, Re'uven and Menasheh swear allegiance to Yehoshua:
As we listened to Mosheh in all things, so will we listen to you; only
Hashem your God be with you, as he was with Mosheh. (1:17)
As proof of the great concern which God has for Yehoshua's confidence in the
face of this great challenge, we see Divine interaction (via command or
incident) which serves to "mimic" Mosheh's life:
i) The crossing of the Yarden is not only evocative of the crossing
of Yam Suf, the former is also used as a reminder of the latter (4:23).
ii) Both the celebration of the Pesach and the immediate cessation of
the Mahn (5:10-12) serve as direct associations with Mosheh's great career.
iii) Most telling, however, is the enigmatic interaction between Yehoshua
and a Divine emissary in the outskirts of Yericho, just prior to the
conquest of that city:
And it came to pass, when Yehoshua was by Yericho, that he lifted up his
eyes and looked, and, behold, there stood a man before him with his sword
drawn in his hand; and Yehoshua went to him, and said to him, Are you for
us, or for our adversaries? And he said, No; but as captain of the army of
Hashem I am now come. And Yehoshua fell on his face to the earth, and
worshipped, and said to him, What does my lord say to his servant? And the
captain of Hashem's host said to Yehoshua, Take your shoe from off your
foot; for the place on which you stand is holy. And Yehoshua did so. (5:13-15)
It is abundantly clear that this final command deliberately and pointedly
evokes the beginning of Mosheh's great career:
And Mosheh kept the flock of Yitro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian;
and he led the flock far away into the desert, and came to the mountain of
God, to Horev. And the angel of Hashem appeared to him in a flame of fire
out of the midst of a bush; and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with
fire, and the bush was not consumed. And Mosheh said, I will now turn aside,
and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. And when Hashem saw
that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the midst of the bush,
and said, Mosheh, Mosheh. And he said, Here am I. And he said, Do not come
any closer; take off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you
stand is holy ground. (Sh'mot 3:1-5)
As as been demonstrated, a significant concern which occupies the text
through the first 8 chapters of Sefer Yehoshua is the transition of
leadership to Yehoshua - who, justifiably and understandably, is hesitant to
step into the hallowed and powerful position held by his master, Mosheh
Rabbenu. It is this relationship which is so beautifully illustrated by Haza"l:
The face of Mosheh is the face of the sun and the face of Yehoshua is the
face of the moon. (BT Bava Batra 75a).
It is only after the crossing of the Yarden (a Mosaic miracle), the
successful conquest of Yericho (the onset of his career as leader of the
conquest) and the "recovery" at Ha'Ai that Yehoshua's position is affirmed -
both in his eyes and the eyes of his flock (see Bamidbar 27:17). Once
Yehoshua has shown that he can not only lead the people in war, but plead
their case to God (7:7-9) and chastise the people to bring about their
better character (the identification and excision of Achan) that his place
as leader is assured.
With this understanding of the development of Yehoshua Mesharet Mosheh in
hand, we can revisit our questions and provide reasoned responses.
Let us begin where we left off - why rocks play such a significant role in
the career of Yehoshua. Since Yehoshua's entire term of leadership was
marked by his success in following Mosheh, it stands to reason that he would
utilize a "Mosaic-reminder" - both for himself and for his nation - at
every significant turn.
At the beginning of this shiur, we noted the first time that Yehoshua is
introduced to us (at the end of this week's Parashah). During that war, as
Yehoshua was leading the people against Amalek, we learn of what Mosheh, his
Master, was doing atop the mountain:
But Mosheh’s hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him,
and he sat on it;
The text goes out of its way to identify an Even (boulder), provided for
Mosheh during the war. Although rocks and boulders are ubiquitous in the
mountainous desert of Rephidim, the narrative mentions it nonetheless, as if
to mark this event as having an association with this rock. Furthermore,
upon the successful conclusion of the war, Mosheh builds an altar (out of
rocks), calling it "Hashem-Nissi" (God is my banner).
We can now answer our final question: Rocks are used in every major story of
Yehoshua because that is Yehoshua's "trademark" - as a reminder of the rock
upon which Mosheh sat when Yehoshua fought his first war.
We can also understand the anachronous presentation of the ceremony at Har
Eval. Whether or not the event took place on the day of the crossing or
several weeks later, the text deliberately places it after Yehoshua had
completed his transition to leader. This clearly distinguishes the wars
fought beforehand (Yericho and Ha'Ai) from those fought later. These first
two wars were not wars of conquest, as much as opportunities for Yehoshua to
establish himself as Mosheh's worthy successor. It was only after this event
took place, that the full realization of "the day that you cross the Yarden"
was achieved, at which point the ceremony was undertaken.
We can finally return to our point of departure and explain the curious
events (and description) at the slope of Beit Horon.
Yehoshua had been using rocks during the development of his career - as a
way of maintaining a Mosaic presence throughout. He had buried his enemies
under piles of rocks, created commemorative steles using piles of rocks and
his first victory in Eretz K'na'an was achieved when the stone walls of
Although some of these acts were the responses to direct commands from God,
the use of rocks was, by and large, initiated by Yehoshua himself. As he
moved into the secure position of leader, he had been consistently using
boulders and stones to mark every step of the conquest.
We can now answer questions 1 and 2 above. Although Divine intervention in
Israelite wars is usually through the confusion of the enemy camp, God
demonstrated Divine validation of Yehoshua's veneration for his teacher by
burying the enemy under rocks - much as Yehoshua had been doing himself.
That is also why the text first refers to these Heavenly weapons as Avanim,
even though it immediately clarifies that it was really Avnei haBarad
We also understand the enigmatic passage in Berakhot, which identifies these
which remained suspended for the sake of a man [Mosheh] and came down for
the sake of a man [Yehoshua].
These hailstones served to cement Yehoshua's place as the rightful successor
and the leader of the B'nei Yisra'el, by virture of his constant commitment
to remembering his master and teacher, Mosheh Rabbenu, who years ago and far
away, sat upon a rock while the young general fought his first war.
Yehoshua led the B’nei Yisra’el during his entire life, satisfied to
continue in the role of van ,ran; it was only in his death that he was
granted the greatest accolade possible:
And Yehoshua bin-Nun, the servant of Hashem, died..
Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to
all the Torah, which Mosheh My servant commanded you; turn not from it to
the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go.
Text Copyright © 2012 by Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom and Torah.org. The author is Educational Coordinator of the Jewish Studies Institute of the Yeshiva of Los Angeles.
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