Yehoshua Bin-Nun: A Life (Part 2)
By Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom
THE APPEARANCE OF YEHOSHUA... ON THE STAGE OF HISTORY
In last 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 week's 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
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 (grea t 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
|| Spies sent to Yericho
|| Preparation for crossing the Yarden
|| Crossing the Yarden, setting up of commemorative stones
|| B'rit Milah and Korban Pesach in Gilgal
|| Conquest of Yericho
|| Aborted 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 Chapter 8.
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)
With: 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
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
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:
a) 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). b) 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.
c) 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
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 © 2013 by Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom and Torah.org. The author is Educational Coordinator of the Jewish Studies Institute of the Yeshiva of Los Angeles.