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“These are the names of the men who Moshe sent to spy out the Land, and Moshe called Hoshea bin Nun, ‘Yehoshua’” (Bamidbar 13:16).

This week’s parsha commences with the episode of the spies. All the spies, apart from Calev and Yehoshua, returned from the Land with a gross misrepresentation of what they had seen, causing the Israelites to wander in the wilderness for 40 years, gradually dying out until a new generation would be ready and deserving to enter the Land. Prior to sending the spies, we are informed that Moshe changed Hoshea bin Nun’s name to “Yehoshua.” Rashi explains this change of name: “He (Moshe) prayed for him (Yehoshua), ‘May Hashem save you from the conspiracy of the spies’” (Rashi, Bamidbar 13:6).

By adding the letter “yud” to Hoshea’s name, Moshe changed its meaning from “saves” to “Hashem saves,” in an act of prayer that Yehoshua would not be negatively affected by the accompanying spies. Whilst we can understand Moshe’s intention in praying for Yehoshua, are we not forgetting somebody? What about Calev? He also risked his life in a heroic effort to oppose the spies. With two righteous spies in danger, why did Moshe only change Yehoshua’s name?

An explanation can be found within Targum Yonatan ben Uziel’s Aramaic translation of this verse: “These are the names of the men who Moshe sent to spy out the Land, and when he saw his humility, Moshe called Hoshea bin Nun, ‘Yehoshua’” (Targum Yonatan ben Uziel, Bamidbar 13:16).

Within his translation, the Targum adds a specific trait of Hoshea’s which prompted Moshe to be concerned for him —– “When he saw his humility” —– Moshe was concerned that Hoshea’s great humility put him at risk and therefore prayed for him and added Hashem’s name to his.

Whilst we can now understand why Moshe only changed Hoshea’s name and not Calev’s, this explanation raises a different question. What is wrong with humility? Surely Moshe, of all people, should appreciate the great value of humility. At the end of last week’s parsha, less than 30 verses ago, we read, “And the man Moshe was very humble – more than any person on the face of the earth” (Bamidbar 12:3). Why was Hoshea’s humility such a cause for concern?

Despite being the most humble person on the face of the planet, Moshe was aware that humility has a potential downside. Hoshea’s challenge was not only to see the good in the land despite those around him, but to show the courage and leadership to oppose them. Moshe feared that Yehoshua’s humility would make him think, “Who am I to take a prominent role? Who am I to challenge the leaders of the tribes? Who am I to put myself in the limelight and enter the national stage?” He therefore changed his name in prayer that despite his great humility, he could rise to face the great challenges that lay before him.

Humility is one of the most vital traits in developing our relationships with those around us and Hashem above. Nevertheless, there are times which demand courage and call out for public displays of leadership. Whilst always working towards developing humble personalities, we should never let humble thoughts prevent us from taking necessary stands. When a nation is crying out for leadership, what use is the humble person who opts to sit on the fence or stay at home?

By combining humility with leadership, may we all merit Moshe’s prayer of “Yehoshua” – “Hashem will save.”


Rabbi Danny Mirvis is Acting CEO of World Mizrachi, and rabbi of Ohel Moshe Synagogue in Herzliya Pituach.

 

  • The RZA-Mizrachi is a broad Religious Zionist organization without a particular political affiliation.
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