July 10, 2024
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Simchat Torah

Chazal’s selection of the first chapter in sefer Yehoshua as the haftara for Simchat Torah is certainly understandable as it flows quite naturally from the final verses of the Torah that are read on this chag. Additionally, one can sense how the memory of Moshe — who had passed on a mere 30 days earlier — haunts the nation, as do their doubts about their future. For that reason, they turn to their new leader with words of encouragement and the promise to follow him as they had followed Moshe.

The choice of the very first perek in sefer Yehoshua might be meant to remind us that just as we began the Torah reading cycle immediately after completing it, in order to reinforce the idea that one never completes a mastery of the text. So too, by starting the book of Yehoshua, and with it the study of Nevi’im, we are reminded that there is more to Tanach than the Torah alone, and we must study that as well.

Interesting to note as well, is the promise made by the two and a half tribes that Israel would follow Yehoshua, provided that “Hashem will be with you,” and their encouragement: “chazak ve’ematz,” to be strong. Certainly not something we would imagine them saying to Moshe.

Understandably, the people are somewhat hesitant regarding the successor. They rightfully wonder: What kind of leader will he be? Will God be with him? Could he bring miracles as his predecessor did? One can argue that they had good reason to doubt Yehoshua. True, he learned in Moshe Rabbeinu’s “kollel” and successfully led the army to victory, but he was one who remained in the background. He was an attendant, an assistant. He “never left the tent” (Shemot 33:11); he waited for Moshe on Mount Sinai while Aharon and Chur were given the leadership role. When the people worshiped the golden calf — he was not there. When the nation believed the report of spies — he remained silent, arguing against them only after Calev had silenced them and challenged them. He speaks only twice in the Torah — and both times, he is corrected by Moshe! The people were right to be concerned!

And yet, Yehoshua proved to be a remarkable leader — one often underestimated. Not only does he lead them throughout his life, not only does he successfully defeat the powerful alliances in Canaan, not only does he keep the people unquestionably faithful to God; but he does all of this while never hearing a complaint against him or any doubt about his leadership. The same generation that questioned Moshe and complained to him during their final year in the desert, is one that remained faithful and loyal to Yehoshua throughout.

The Talmud (Bava Batra 75a) tells us that the leaders of the generation compared Yehoshua to the light of the moon and Moshe to that of the sun. Yehoshua was only the reflection of his teacher’s light. But, perhaps, that itself was a secret to his success. One cannot look at the sun, but can stare at the moon. Yehoshua was more of an “everyman” that the people could relate to. One who was “part of them,” one who grew up with them and to whom they could relate. Moshe was, as our rabbis say, almost angelic. A leader to whom it was difficult to get close.

The Malbim beautifully explains that Hashem told Moshe at the burning bush to: “Shal na’alecha mei-al raglecha — Remove your shoes from your feet,” while, before the battle of Jericho, Yehoshua was told, “Shal na’alecha — Remove your shoe.” Moshe, standing on holy ground, removed both shoes and immersed himself in the divine, while Yehoshua removed but one shoe — keeping one foot in the sacredness of heaven and the other upon the solid ground of reality.

Perhaps, that was the secret to his success. And, perhaps, a lesson for us as we go from the holiness of the holidays to the mundane world of real life.


Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel of Fort Lee, and now lives in Israel.

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