Category Archives: Yehoshua

Yehoshua Chapter 24 – Conclusion

Yehoshua Chapter 24Conclusion

The Book of Yehoshua concludes with a final address delivered by Yehoshua to the entire nation, leaders and laypersons alike. This speech was given at Shekhem, and begins with a description of the pre-history of the Jewish people, starting with Abraham’s father Terah who served idols and charting the development of the nation of Israel through Avraham, Yitschaq, Yaaqov and Yaaqov’s descendants. Yehoshua mentions the highlights of the Exodus from Egypt, the dramatic salvation at the Sea of Reeds, the period of wandering through the desert and the miraculous military successes and conquests that Hashem orchestrated for the benefit of the Jews.

Yehoshua first exhorts the nation to serve Hashem in purity and to reject all other gods. However, he then presents them with the option of changing their minds and reverting to the gods of Terah or of their Canaanite neighbors, saying only that “as for myself and my household, we will serve Hashem”. The Jewish people responded to this offer with an unequivocal affirmation of their intent to serve only Hashem, the God Who has been the source of their salvation from the beginning, and to reject any other mode or object of worship.

Yehoshua responds that Hashem is too holy and too demanding; committing to His service is a significant and risky challenge! The Jews rebuff Yehoshua and again insist that they will remain true in their dedication to Hashem. Yehoshua makes an official covenant between the Jewish people and Hashem, and places a large rock under an oak tree beside the sanctuary of Hashem as a memorial to that covenant.

Yehoshua dies at the age of 110 and is buried in his territory in Timnat-Serah; the bones of Yosef are laid to rest in Shekhem, in the portion of land that Yaaqov had purchased centuries earlier in that area. The final verse of the Book of Yehoshua tells us that Elazar son of Aharon, the Kohen Gadol, passed away and was buried as well.

Several questions can be raised regarding this chapter. First of all, what is the need for two speeches – one directed to the leadership and one addressed to everybody? Couldn’t Yehoshua consolidate his remarks in one speech?

Second, we know that at this time the Mishkan was positioned in Shiloh, not Shekhem. Why does Yehoshua deliver this final address in Shekhem rather than Shiloh and why does the text imply that they were standing beside the Sanctuary of Hashem nonetheless?

Third, why did they wait so long to bury Yosef’s bones in Shekhem?

Finally, why does Yehoshua chart Jewish history all the way back to Terah’s time, and why does he raise the possibility that the Jews might want to give up the Torah and revert to the idolatrous traditions of their distant past? Doesn’t the first speech insist that the Jews must keep their commitment to Hashem no matter what?

Several modern commentators and scholars have grappled with these problems and none has provided a fully satisfactory explanation for them. I would like to offer a suggestion of my own that I believe is persuasive and meaningful in its own right even if it doesn’t resolve all the difficulties.

The Book of Yehoshua can rightly be understood as the “postscript” or epilogue to the Torah. It describes the fulfillment of all of Hashem’s promises to the Jewish people and is the conclusion of the historical saga that began with the enslavement in and Exodus from Egypt. In that way, the Book of Yehoshua is the conclusion of a national narrative, the final stage of the founding of Israel as a community in its own land.

The first closing speech of Yehoshua, which presupposes the inviolable nature of the covenant made at Sinai and is directed to the LEADERSHIP alone, is a fitting end to the Book of Yehoshua insofar as it is the history of a nation that was first introduced in the Book of Shemot.

At the same time, however, the dramatic departure from Egypt and conquering of Israel is not only the story of a newly founded polity; it is also the fulfillment of the promises made to the Patriarchs and is the final chapter of THEIR complex and dramatic story. When Avraham arrived in Canaan, he pitched his tent in Shekhem and was there informed that his descendants would inherit the land. When Yaaqov returned from “exile” in the house of Lavan, he immediately purchased a parcel of land in Shekhem, and before departing, he instructed his household to rid themselves of any foreign gods and buried them “under the oak tree in Shekhem”. When Yosef is seized and sold by his brothers into slavery, it is because he went to check on them in Shekhem. When Yaaqov blesses Yosef at the end of his life, he tells Yosef that he has bequeathed to him “Shekhem ahad al ahekha”, meaning one parcel of land more than his brothers – this parcel of land is Shekhem.

Seen from this angle, then, the Book of Yehoshua is not only a sequel to the Book of Devarim, it is the conclusion of the Book of Beresheet – the life stories of the Patriarchs – as well. In that context, Shekhem is clearly a critical location at which all of the dramatic turning points took place, and it is therefore fitting that Yehoshua would deliver his final speech there.

The last speech begins from Terah and focuses on the individuals whose progeny became the Jewish people; it deals with the Abrahamic covenant that we are members of INDIVIDUALLY and as FAMILIES, not nationally as citizens (Berit Milah is an expression of this aspect of our covenant with Hashem). And while the national covenant would naturally be reaffirmed at Shiloh, home of the national sanctuary, the individual/familial covenant between the descendants of Avraham and Hashem would be best renewed at Shekhem, the location that is emblematic of the Patriarchs and their physical and spiritual journeys – even if that meant having to bring the Ark over to the exact place in Shekhem where Yaaqov originally commanded his household to dispose of any idols in their possession.

Unlike the national covenant, maintenance of which is incumbent upon the leaders of the nation as a whole (addressed in the first speech), the Abrahamic covenant is a matter of personal choice, participation and commitment on the part of each individual, hence Yehoshua’s statement in the second speech “as for me and my household, we will serve Hashem!”

Yehoshua is a descendant of Yosef and dies at the age of 110 just like Yosef himself did. Their burials are juxtaposed, with the burial of Yehoshua symbolizing the end of the era of the Exodus and the burial of Yosef in Shekhem representing the end of the saga of Beresheet – keep in mind that the final verse of the Book of Beresheet describes Yosef being placed in a coffin above ground in Egypt; he was waiting for his return to Israel and proper Jewish burial for centuries!

We need not assume that the Jews actually delayed the burial of Yosef’s bones all this time, although it is possible that Yehoshua did this for the thematic effect. What is important is that CONCEPTUALLY the link between the burial of these two key figures interconnects and ties up all of the loose ends in the Torah narratives of the Patriarchs of Beresheet and of the Jewish nation of Shemot-Devarim, making the Book of Yehoshua the proper integration and resolution of the plot lines of both of these grand and rich narratives. Beresheet precedes Shemot-Devarim and here the conclusion of Shemot-Devarim precedes the conclusion of Beresheet – on a literary level, this A-B-B-A structure indicates the ultimate intertwining and interconnecting of the two stories into one complete, unified and indivisible narrative.

Yehoshua Chapter 23

Yehoshua Chapter 23

This chapter records one of two “closing speeches” that conclude the Book of Yehoshua, delivered once stability and security had been achieved by the Jews in their settlement of the land of Israel. For this speech, Yehoshua gathered together the leaders of Israel, including judges, elders and officers. He reminded them of the support Hashem had provided them during the process of conquest and the fact that He had fulfilled all of His promises and assurances to the Jewish people with respect to their acquisition and division of the land.

Yehoshua reassured the Jews that his own death would not have any impact on the relationship between Hashem and His people moving forward. On the contrary, based on their own experience of His providential involvement in their lives, they knew that Hashem could be trusted to assist them in capturing and annexing the remaining swaths of territory that, at the time of the speech, were still under Canaanite dominion.

However, Yehoshua warned the leadership of the nation to be careful to diligently study and observe the Torah of Moshe Rabbenu, loving and worshiping Hashem, and not to allow the Jews to pursue intermarriage with or imitation of their gentile neighbors. If they do fail in their commitment to Torah and mitzvoth, Yehoshua warns them that they should expect Hashem to be equally reliable in His promise to withdraw His support for their military and political efforts and to exile the Jews from the holy land He had granted them.

Yehoshua Chapter 22

Yehoshua Chapter 22

This chapter focuses upon the tribes of Gad, Reuven and half of Menashe, and is the “epilogue” of their story. In exchange for being permitted to dwell in the Transjordan in the territory captured from Sihon and Og, the tribes of Reuven and Gad had promised Moshe Rabbenu that they would join the remaining tribes in fighting the battles of conquest and would not return to their homes until the settlement of the land was completed. They fulfilled their commitment and were given an acknowledgment and inspiring send-off from Yehoshua as they departed to resume life with their families on the eastern side of the Jordan River.

Shortly after this, however, the Jews in mainland Israel make an alarming discovery: since their return, the tribes of Reuven, Gad and half of Menashe have constructed a large altar beside the Jordan River, an exact facsimile of the sacrificial altar of the Mishkan! This was understandably interpreted as a sign of rebellion against Hashem and an affront to the national unity of Israel that presupposed a single Sanctuary and Altar for all.

A delegation led by Pinhas and representatives of each of the tribes is dispatched to confront the leadership of the Transjordan Jewish community regarding this disturbing development. They come prepared for civil war if necessary. The elders of the two and a half tribes explain that they never, G-d forbid, intended to use the altar they had constructed for any sacrificial worship, nor did they mean for their action to be construed as one of separatism or rebellion.

On the contrary, they were genuinely concerned that their children, when visiting the national sanctuary in mainland Israel, might be rebuffed and rejected by their brethren as if they were non-Jews. The fact that they live in a geographically distinct area could cause the majority of the Jewish people, as well as the two and a half tribes themselves, to lose their sense of being one nation serving One God.

The minority population in the Transjordan could be perceived as “outsiders” by those in Israel proper, and this discrimination, so to speak, would in turn shape the identity of the children of Reuven, Gad and half of Menashe. The symbolic altar, a precise copy of the one in the Mishkan, would remind their descendants that they are, in fact Jews, and that is why they possess an altar that is never used for any sacrificial service but merely evokes the memory of the national sanctuary on the western side of the Jordan. This plausible and sincere explanation is accepted by the delegation and no further action is taken against the two and a half tribes.
This narrative takes us back to the original discussion between the tribes of Reuven and Gad and Moshe Rabbenu. The tribes declared their intention to build pens for their animals and cities for their children in the Transjordan, where their families would remain and to which they would return after fighting alongside their brethren in Israel. Moshe Rabbenu, in agreeing to their proposition, reverses the order, instructing them instead to construct cities for their children and pens for their animals. The Rabbis comment that the tribes of Reuven and Gad cared more about their animals than their children! How did they feel justified in registering such a sweeping indictment of the tribes based upon a nuance in word order alone?
This story in the Book of Yehoshua sheds light on the answer. Moshe Rabbenu foresaw what the two tribes could not or did not – that their children’s connection to the Torah and the Jewish people would be jeopardized by the decision to remain on the eastern side of the Jordan. Their choice was motivated by financial concerns but neglected to take the spiritual welfare of future generations into account. It was only after the two and a half tribes returned to the Transjordan that the religious implications of their distance from mainland Israel dawned upon them, and they took action to rectify or, at the very least, ameliorate the problem by constructing the symbolic altar. Truth be told, the tribes in the Transjordan developed a much weaker Jewish identity over time – they would be the quickest to assimilate into non-Jewish culture and, centuries later, would be the first Jewish population to be sent into exile.

Yehoshua Chapter 21

Yehoshua Chapter 21

This chapter describes how, once the twelve tribes are settled in their respective territories, the leaders of the households of the Tribe of Levi approach Yehoshua, Elazar the High Priest and the Elders of Israel to request the cities that the Torah promised them.

Like the tribe of Shimon, the tribe of Levi is destined to be scattered throughout Israel. However, unlike Shimon, the tribe of Levi transformed its passion into something positive and constructive – a passion for Hashem and His Torah. Therefore, rather than merely being denied their own contiguous parcel of land, they are “strategically located” throughout the tribes, with each tribe (including those in the Transjordan) contributing cities and their outskirts/surrounding areas for the Levites to settle in and cultivate.

This meant that there would be local “religious authorities” and teachers stationed throughout the Jewish commonwealth who would have a strong connection to the Mishkan/Bet Hamiqdash and embody and proclaim its principles but who would reside among the people. This way, every tribe, no matter its physical distance from the national sanctuary (be it the Mishkan or, eventually, the Bet Hamiqdash) and the infrequency of its visits there, will maintain a constant link to the mission of Torah study, holiness and justice represented by the Sanctuary through its engagement with the Levites and their teachings.

It is also worthy of mention that the cities of refuge were Levite cities: the Levites were given forty eight cities in total (thirteen cities for the Kohanim close to Jerusalem, ten cities for the rest of the family of Qehat, thirteen cities for Gershon, and twelve for Merari), all of which could serve as safe havens but only six of which were the official “cities of refuge” required by the Torah and established by Yehoshua.

The chapter concludes by once again highlighting the fact that Hashem had delivered the entire land of Israel into the hands of the Jewish people, exactly as he had promised their ancestors. No one had been able to stand up against them, threaten or defeat them. Whatever doubts may have lingered in the minds of the Jews regarding Hashem’s fulfillment of His promises – perhaps the lengthy sojourn in the wilderness and its attendant problems had caused some to lose hope – were now completely laid to rest.

Yehoshua Chapter 20

Yehoshua Chapter 20

This chapter begins with a phrase we have not seen before in the Book of Yehoshua “וידבר ה אל יהושע לאמר” – “and Hashem spoke to Yehoshua, saying…” While Hashem has spoken with Yehoshua on many occasions, here the language of the Torah itself is used, reminding us of the familiar and oft-repeated opener “and Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying…” The reason for this seems to be that we are about to be told of the designation of the Cities of Refuge, which would serve as safe havens for individuals who commit murder accidentally.

Moshe Rabbenu himself wanted to participate in this mitzvah to the extent he could, so he established the first three cities on the eastern side of the Jordan River after the conquest of the land of Sihon and Og. However, technically speaking his act was not legally effective until all six were selected and consecrated, which is precisely what is described in our chapter. Once again, we find Yehoshua completing a task of Moshe Rabbenu; in this case, he is literally finishing a mitzvah begun by his mentor. The use of the Torah’s phraseology, generally reserved for commandments to Moshe, highlights this concept.

Such offenders must flee to these cities before their trials and, if found guilty, return there until the presiding Kohen Gadol (High Priest) dies. The detailed regulations of the treatment of the accidental killer are recorded in the Torah in Parashat Masei and again in Parashat Vaetchanan . What is noteworthy is that – in the Torah and in the Book of Yehoshua – the designation of these cities is always presented as a critical part of the settlement of the land.

Setting up these cities is not merely a practical measure taken to protect the rights of the inadvertent murderer or to provide an opportunity for rehabilitation. Rather, guarding the sanctity of life is of the essence of Jewish settlement. The cities accomplish this in two ways: By insisting that the murderer be exiled despite the fact that his action was unintentional, the Torah emphasizes the gravity with which it treats the loss of life and the care that must be taken to preserve it. At the same time, by allowing the killer refuge from revenge-inspired attacks at the hands of his victim’s family, the Torah demonstrates that his life is similarly precious.

Thinking back to the story of Cain and Abel in Beresheet, we recall that the first murder is also followed by the exiling of Cain. That narrative establishes the precedent that land upon which innocent blood is spilled becomes defiled as a result. A society that tolerates disrespect for the infinite value of human life denies the fact that mankind was created in Hashem’s image and reduces him to a mere animal. This is not a society that can aspire to the levels of holiness and wisdom to which we, the Jewish people, are summoned.

Yehoshua Chapter 19

Yehoshua Chapter 19

This chapter describes how the six remaining tribes (Shimon, Zevulun, Yissakhar, Naftali, Dan and Asher) conquered and settled their respective territories in the Land of Israel. While many of the details appear to us uninteresting, clearly the delineation of borders between the tribes is very significant for both practical and theological reasons that are rooted in the specific promises made to them by Hashem, the specific berakhot recorded in the Torah that they received from Yaaqov and Moshe, and the special role that each is destined to play in the future of the Jewish people. Although they are beyond the scope of a summary, commentaries have been written on these chapters that indeed attempt to uncover the symbolic import of the allocation of particular areas or cities to particular tribes.

On a very simple level, if one reads the blessings of Moshe Rabbenu at the end of the Torah in front of a map, one will see that the order of his blessings corresponds to the layout of the tribe’s inheritances in the Land of Israel (and excludes Shimon, who don’t have a separate area of their own.)

A few highlights are worthy of mention. The tribe of Shimon was told by Yaaqov Avinu that they would be dispersed throughout Israel and was not even acknowledged in the blessings conferred by Moshe Rabbenu at the end of his life; in this chapter, we read how they are not given their own swath of land but instead receive scattered cities within the boundaries of the Tribe of Yehuda which were ample. Their counterpart, the Tribe of Levi, will be discussed in the next chapter.

The chapter describes how the tribe of Dan attacked and conquered Leshem/Layish and renamed it Dan; this incident actually occurred after the death of Yehoshua and is recorded in the Book of Shofetim but is included here because of its relevance to the theme of conquest and settlement.

The chapter concludes by mentioning that Yehoshua was given the territory that he requested, Timnat Serah, which was located in the land allocated to his own tribe, in the mountains of Ephraim. Yehoshua built a city there and remained there until the end of his life. This marked the conclusion of the division of the land to the extent that it was completed before his death; there was still much land left unconquered and unsettled, and many Canaanite settlements remained within the borders of Israel, but Yehoshua failed to inspire his generation to take the process of conquest any further than this. Some commentaries blame him for this, claiming that his initial reluctance to complete the task quickly set the stage for it not to be completed at all.

Yehoshua Chapter 18

Yehoshua Chapter 18

This chapter begins with a description of how Yehoshua moved the Mishkan from Gilgal to a new location in Shilo. Yehoshua gathered the entire population together and criticized the tribes who had been reticent about conquering and settling the land that Hashem had promised them. He encouraged them to complete the process as soon as possible.

To this end, Yehoshua requested the appointment of three men for each tribe who would scout the land and record the borders of the seven portions of land that remained for the seven tribes who had not yet acquired any territory of their own. Once these seven parcels were identified, they would be assigned to the respective tribes by lottery and the responsibility of capturing and settling them would fall to their recipients.

The chapter concludes with a detailed description of the borders of the territory of the Tribe of Binyamin, which was positioned in between Yosef (Ephraim) to the North and Yehudah to the South.

The connection between the relocation of the Mishkan and the remainder of the chapter is difficult to understand. Why was this the appropriate time to move the national sanctuary to a new neighborhood? Apparently, Yehoshua understood that the Jewish people had become comfortably habituated to living as one in a single valley in Gilgal – the same kind of lifestyle they had enjoyed for the past forty years – and that this was a key reason for their resistance to continuing the conquest of the land. They preferred to stay together, close to the Mishkan and under the direct supervision of their leaders and elders.

By disbanding the camp at Gilgal and relocating the sanctuary to Shilo (within the forests of his own tribe, Ephraim), Yehoshua undermined the status quo that had become so cozy and familiar and thereby pushed the tribes to go out on their own and establish new settlements in the land. Undoubtedly, there are echoes of the famous story of the Tower of Bavel in this narrative – the idea that the entire population occupied one valley, wished to remain united and feared and opposed any prospect of dispersion. Here, as there, only a commandment of Hashem and a pulling of the rug from underneath their feet compels them to pick up, move out of their immediate comfort zone and go about the business of inhabiting the entire land.

Two aspects of the borders of the Tribe of Binyamin are important to mention. First, Binyamin lies between Ephraim/Yosef and Yehuda. It is certainly no accident that Yosef and Yehuda the brothers were ultimately reunited and reconciled with one another as a result of the situation with Binyamin who “came between them”. Geographically, Binyamin creates a bridge to connect the two “personalities of leadership” and their descendants who will determine the political and spiritual future of the nation.

Second, the Hebrew term “ketef”, or shoulder, is used numerous times in the description of the borders of Binyamin, alluding to the blessing of Moshe Rabbenu that Hashem’s presence will dwell “between the shoulders” of Binyamin. The Bet HaMiqdash will ultimately be built in the territory of Binyamin, and this national center of worship of Hashem and Torah study is the foundation that brings Yehuda, Yosef and the entire Jewish people together as one despite their differences.

Yehoshua Chapter 17

Yehoshua Pereq 17

This chapter concludes the description of the territorial borders of Yosef by addressing the land inherited by the tribe of Menashe. Two special features distinguished Menashe’s portion in Israel from that of the other tribes. First, Menashe is the only tribe that “straddles” the Jordan River, with half of its population settled in the Transjordan and half in mainland Israel. Second, the daughters of Tzelofhad – members of the tribe of Menashe – had been promised their father’s share in Israel despite the fact that, generally speaking, women did not receive their own inheritance. Both of these unusual circumstances are addressed in detail in this chapter, especially the fulfillment of the commandment of Hashem to Moshe that the daughters of Tzelofhad receive their father’s portion in the land since he had no sons to represent him. The territory of Menashe is also noteworthy in that several of the cities that were given to Menashe were located within the borders of other tribes.

The chapter concludes by mentioning that the two tribes of Yosef approached Yehoshua to complain that the amount of the land they received was not commensurate with the size of their population (it is interesting to note that Yehoshua himself was a member of the tribe of Ephraim.) Yehoshua recommended that they solve their own problem by clearing a forest that was situated within their territory as well as by driving out some of the remaining Canaanites in the land and expanding their current borders. The children of Yosef protest that the Canaanite cities are too formidable for them to conquer; they are amply equipped with iron chariots and a strong military. Yehoshua reiterates that the very complaint they are lodging against him contains the answer to the problem – if they are indeed so numerous, they should be more than capable of clearing the forest he had mentioned and of defeating the resident Canaanites regardless of their might.

Yehoshua Chapter 16

Yehoshua Pereq 16
This brief chapter provides us with a detailed description of the borders of the territory given to “Yosef”, specifically to the tribe of Ephraim. The fact that Yehudah and Yosef receive a great deal of special attention in this regard makes sense in light of the fact that the blessings of both Yaaqov and Moshe Rabbenu to these brothers/tribes emphasized the unique significance the role they were destined to play in leading the Jewish nation.

Maps are very useful for helping us envision the exact areas delineated in this and several other geographically rich sections of the book of Yehoshua. The two tribes of Yosef – Ephraim and Menashe – settled in a large swath of land to the north of the territories of Yehuda and Binyamin. When we study the Book of Kings, we will learn how this territory later became the seat of the Kingdom of Israel, which declared independence from the governance of the Davidic dynasty or “Kingdom of Yehuda” shortly after the death of King Solomon.


Yehoshua Chapter 15

Yehoshua Chapter 15

This chapter proceeds to describe the borders of the Tribe of Yehuda in all of their detail. We are told of the conquests of Kalev, including the fact that he drove the infamous and imposing “Children of the Giant” out of Qiryat Arba. Kalev promised that whoever was successful in capturing Qiryat Sefer would be rewarded with the opportunity to marry his daughter, Akhsa; his own brother, Otniel ben Qenaz, conquered the city and married her. She was displeased with the property that her father Kalev had given her and her new husband as a “nest egg”; it was arid land that would be difficult, if not impossible, to cultivate.

Her husband Otniel did not want to confront his brother on this issue, so she personally pleaded with her father to provide her with springs of water that would enable her to irrigate the fields she had received. Kalev graciously honored her request and presented her with a field that had plentiful sources of water both above and below it. The chapter closes by mentioning that the tribe of Yehuda could not (or, at least, would not) conquer Yerushalayim, leaving it in the hands of the Yevusim for the foreseeable future.

The Rabbis interpret the scenario with Kalev, Otniel and Akhsa along totally different, spiritual lines. According to their reading of the incident, Kalev offered his daughter’s hand in marriage to whoever was able to reconstruct the thousands of halakhot that had been lost during the thirty days of mourning that followed the death of Moshe Rabbenu. “Qiryat Sefer”, the “City of Book”, is understood as a symbolic reference not to a military conquest but an intellectual achievement. Otniel rose to the occasion and, with his remarkable powers of reasoning, was able to rediscover and restore the details of law that had been forgotten after Moshe’s passing.

When Akhsa complained to her father, it was about the fact that he had given her “dry land” – suggesting, idiomatically, that he had married her off to a person who had only Torah and spirituality but no practical means of supporting her on a financial level. Therefore, Kalev provided the new couple with additional fields that he knew would allow them to live comfortably and harmoniously together.

The Rabbis could not accept the notion that Kalev, a “man of spirit”, would allow his daughter to be married to a man whose only merit was military prowess. There had to be more to Otniel (later to become the first “Judge” in the Book of Shofetim) than a mighty warrior. Thus, they understood the story as a parable that reflected the spiritual strength of Otniel and his ability to resolve a major religious crisis – the loss of halakhot – that had vexed the Jewish people.

Interestingly, this account of Kalev, Otniel and Akhsa appears twice in the Tanakh – once here and once in the Book of Shofetim. The commentary Malbim explains that both the physical conquest version of the story and the spiritual one are true, and that the verbatim repetition of the narrative is intended to reveal to us BOTH dimensions of what actually took place.


Yehoshua Chapter 14


Yehoshua Chapter 14

This chapter opens by recapping the inheritance of the two and a half tribes on the eastern side of the Jordan River, as well as emphasizing once more that the count of “twelve” tribes does not include Levi – it treats Ephraim and Menashe, subdivisions of family of Yosef, as two tribes. The point is made that the apportionment of the land by Yehoshua, the elders and Elazar the Kohen Gadol is “as Hashem commanded Moshe”, it is just as significant and binding as that which was done by Moshe during his lifetime, and is in fulfillment of the same divine commandment.

At this point, the tribe of Yehuda, represented by the illustrious Kalev ben Yefuneh, approached Yehoshua to claim their inheritance. Kalev recounted his role as one of the spies dispatched by Moshe Rabbenu to scout the land forty-five years earlier; only he and Yehoshua returned with a positive and encouraging report and were, therefore, worthy of entering Israel. Kalev mentioned that he was only forty years old when he first visited the Holy Land as one of the spies; as he prepared to receive the reward he had earned for his faithfulness to Hashem, he had reached the age of eighty-five but was still as youthful, strong and vigorous as he had been forty five years earlier. He declared his readiness to vanquish the giants who resided in the territory destined to be his, and he proceeded to conquer the intimidating inhabitants of Hevron and settled there as he had been promised.

The Torah tells us that the spies went up to Hevron during their mission. According to the Rabbis it was Kalev alone who visited Hevron in order to pray next to the graves of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs who are buried there. While Yehoshua had Moshe Rabbenu as his mentor and source of support, Kalev had no special connection to him prior to the sin of the spies. Unlike Yehoshua whom we expect to side with Moshe Rabbenu, Kalev’s independent spirit and willingness to break ranks with the other ten spies was startling.

The Rabbis seem to suggest that he derived his courage and inner strength not from a close relationship with Moshe Rabbenu but from his meditation upon the example set by the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. The Avot and Imahot had no interest in the approval of their society and made no attempt to “fit in”; they were fiercely independent and chose a path they knew to be correct, regardless of what anyone else might think. This is precisely what Kalev did in the episode of the spies and it was therefore fitting that he inherit the territory that contained the burial plot of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs whose memory inspired him to greatness.


Yehoshua Chapter 13


Yehoshua Chapter 13

Yehoshua had reached an advanced age but there was still much territory left in Israel to be conquered. This land, still in the hands of its original Canaanite inhabitants, would have to be captured by the Jewish people after Yehoshua’s death. Hashem commanded Yehoshua that, despite the fact that the conquest was not yet complete, he should begin the process of dividing the land amongst the twelve tribes. In so doing, Yehoshua would be finishing a task that was started by Moshe Rabbenu on the eastern side of the Jordan River. After defeating Sihon and Og in the Transjordan, Moshe had distributed their territory to the tribes of Reuven and Gad and half the tribe of Menashe. The chapter provides a detailed description of which portions were allocated to which tribes, and mentions that, even following the conquest led by Moshe himself, some Canaanite inhabitants remained in the area and continued dwelling alongside these tribes. The text notes twice that the tribe of Levi, consecrated to the worship of Hashem, would not receive a portion in the land – service of Hashem and its associated benefits would serve as their inheritance instead.


Yehoshua Chapter 12


Yehoshua Chapter 12

This chapter summarizes the conquests of Yehoshua and his army in the land of Israel. Fascinatingly, it begins with a recap of the conquest of the Transjordan under the command of Moshe and the territory he captured from Og, King of Bashan and Sihon, King of the Emorites. It concludes with a list of the thirty-one kings (southern and northern) who were overthrown and defeated, and their land acquired, by Yehoshua and his army.

In a proper scroll of the Book of Yehoshua, reproduced in some editions of the Tanakh, this list of kings is recorded in the Biblical poetic form, with wide spaces on the page dividing each verse in half. Songs and poems are typically used in Tanakh to indicate the conclusion of an era or the occurrence of a significant transition in history, focus, spiritual awareness, or leadership (consider the Song at the Sea when the Exodus is finally complete, the song of Hanna heralding the new era of leadership in the time of Shemuel, or the song of Devorah.)

The reason for the connection back to Moshe Rabbenu’s initial conquests should be clear in light of what we have discussed previously. Throughout the book, there is a continual effort to relate Yehoshua’s actions, decisions, and experiences to those of Moshe Rabbenu, to demonstrate that he is, in effect, completing work that was started but left undone by his master and mentor. Here too, Yehoshua has successfully conducted the conquest of large swaths of the land of Israel, bringing the task first begun by Moshe Rabbenu to the next stage of its development. It was critical that Moshe Rabbenu be the one to capture the territory on the eastern side of the Jordan River so that the military operations on the mainland of Israel could be viewed as the extension and conclusion of his efforts and not seen as an unprecedented initiative of Yehoshua and the new generation of Jews.

Yehoshua Chapter 11


Yehoshua Chapter 11

When the King of Hazor heard of the military and territorial advances of the Children of Israel, he formed an alliance with the kings of the Northern provinces of Canaan in order to put a stop to the Jewish invaders once and for all. Hashem reassured Yehoshua that he had no reason to worry; once again, he will defeat the enemies that rise up against him. Hashem further instructed Yehoshua to burn the chariots of his enemies and to hamstring their horses. This may have been in order to discourage the Jewish people from usurping and adopting the warlike trappings of their opponents. Otherwise, they may have been tempted to hold onto the chariots and horses in imitation of the style of Egypt from whence they came or in order to adapt their military tactics to those of the neighboring gentiles.

Rather than waiting for the alliance of kings to make the first move, Yehoshua preempted them with a surprise attack and, in fulfillment of the divine directive, burned the chariots and maimed the horses. He then proceeded to Hazor, set it aflame and razed it to the ground. The soldiers eliminated all of the citizens of Hazor and kept only the spoils of war for themselves. Yehoshua subsequently laid siege to each of the home cities of the remaining kings who had mobilized against him and overtook them, slaying the inhabitants and taking possession of all of the land and material goods they found. Of all of the cities captured, however, only Hazor was burned to the ground. Since the King of Hazor initiated the resistance against the Jews, it may be that Hazor was treated in a harsher manner than the territories of the other kings who joined in his campaign.

Two points are worthy of note in this chapter. First, the Navi mentions that, unlike the conquest of Southern Israel, it took Yehoshua “many days” to defeat the kingdoms of the North. The Rabbis interpret this as a criticism of Yehoshua – he knew that once he completed his God-given task of conquering and dividing up the land of Israel, he would pass away, and he preferred to drag out the process as long as possible and extend his life. Little did Yehoshua know that, unfortunately, this initial lack of zeal to fully settle the Jewish community in the land of Israel had far reaching implications the impact of which would continue to be felt centuries later.

Second, the Navi mentions that none of the cities or nations in Canaan made peace with the Jews except for the people of Givon, and that, therefore, they were all decimated by Yehoshua’s army. This is important because we are often taken aback by the seemingly wanton violence in the Book of Yehoshua, especially the wholesale liquidation of entire populations of Canaanites in the course of each battle. These verses support the view of HaRambam and others, that Yehoshua was obligated to extend an offer of peace to each community before laying siege to it, allowing them the opportunity to accept the Seven Noachide Laws and remain in Israel or to vacate their land rather than face a military conflict (the Rambam says this is true even of the war against Amaleq!) No one accepted the offer, and the Givonim obviously didn’t realize this option would be on the table so they engaged in subterfuge to accomplish the same goal (although we can now understand why Yehoshua was permitted to uphold his covenant with them rather than destroy them – they would have been allowed to remain in the land anyway under the peace terms he would have offered them.)

It is critical that the Navi explain that for Jews, war is never the first choice of action, and that this series of battles was unique in Jewish history, never to be repeated. Only in a land purified from the enticing influences of idolatry could the nation of Hashem establish itself, thrive and sanctify God’s name in the world – regrettably, without the cooperation of the indigenous peoples, the Jews had no option but to create this sacred monotheistic zone by force.


Yehoshua Chapter 10


Yehoshua Pereq 10

The voluntary surrender of Givon, a great and powerful city, increased alarm among the kings of Canaan. Five kings of the southern region of the land came together to lay siege to Givon as a kind of reprisal for what they perceived as a treacherous act of treason, making peace with enemy invaders. The citizens of Givon sent word to Yehoshua to request military support in defending them from this attack – they had little chance of surviving a battle against the united armed forces of five kingdoms.

Yehoshua responded by intervening with a surprise attack and soundly defeating the five kings, who flee from before the army of Israel. Those who escape find themselves in the midst of a divinely orchestrated and deadly hailstorm that claims more of their lives than the battle itself had.

One of the most famous and startling moments in Tanakh is recorded in this chapter – Yehoshua called upon Hashem before all of Israel, and said “may the sun be still in Givon and the moon in the valley of Ayalon”, and his prayer was answered. According to the traditional understanding of the text, the verses indicate that sun and moon literally remained in place for a full twenty-four hours, until such time as the Jewish people had fully and decisively triumphed over their enemies. However, in my weekly in-depth analysis of our Nakh content on Thursday evening, I will be delving into a variety of interpretations of this passage and will suggest a surprisingly different approach…stay tuned.

Yehoshua urged his soldiers to pursue their enemies with alacrity and not to allow them to find refuge again in their walled cities. He also ensured that the five kings, who had hidden themselves in a cave, were trapped inside and not able to escape. He eventually ordered his men to lead them out of the cave and lay them upon the ground, and instructed his officers to place their feet upon the necks of these kings in a sign of triumph. He reminded them that this success was granted to them by Hashem, who would continue to assist them in their military campaigns as long as they remained committed to His Torah. The five kings were executed by hanging, but were left there only until sunset, at which time they were buried in the cave that had initially served as their hiding place.

Building on this momentum, Yehoshua proceeded to conquer several other key southern targets, including Maqedah, Livnah, Lakhish, Gezer, Eglon, Hevron, and Devir, before finally returning to their camp at Gilgal. The Navi notes that all of these regimes were defeated at one time because Hashem enabled the Jewish people to achieve their military objectives in a miraculously fast, efficient and decisive manner.

The initial attack on Givon was a test for the Jewish people. After all, the Givonim had misled them, and the Israelite alliance with Givon was based upon false premises from the outset. The Jews certainly could have allowed them to be decimated by the five kings and could have dismissed it as their “just desserts”. However, they stood by their word and defended their new allies, and in so doing they took advantage of a rare golden opportunity to defeat five kings simultaneously – kings who resided in heavily fortified locations and each of whom would have required a separate, and possibly lengthy, military campaign to overthrow.

Another significant thematic element to this chapter is the connection between Yehoshua and Avraham. Of course, Avraham Avinu was the first Jew to relocate to Israel and settle there; the promise to bequeath the land to us was initially made to him! It seems like no accident that these first battles of conquest take place in precisely the location that Avraham Avinu camped.

Moreover, the five kings who lay siege to Givon evoke a memory of the war of the four and five kings as recorded in Parashat Lekh-Lekha, when, like Yehoshua, Avraham was faced with the dilemma of whether to get involved in a military campaign on behalf of someone who “didn’t deserve it.” In the case of Avraham, the motive for involvement was to protect Lot, the “wayward” nephew who had left him and his holy path and gone to live in Sodom. In the story of Avraham, a nighttime surprise attack allows a smaller band of fighters to overcome a larger and physically stronger one (four kings who had previously defeated five kings), and so too here in the story of Yehoshua.

Undoubtedly, this story is meant to emphasize to us the reenactment of Avraham’s personal life story through the lives of his descendants and to relate their conquest of the land and the fulfillment of Hashem’s promises in the time of Yehoshua back to the original promises that were made to Avraham and actions that he himself took when he arrived there centuries earlier. Through identifying with their illustrious forefather, the Jews under the leadership of Yehoshua demonstrated that they intended to continue the Abrahamic legacy and that they would be worthy recipients of the blessings that he secured for his descendants.

Yehoshua Chapter 9

Yehoshua Chapter 9

Yehoshua Pereq 9

When word spread throughout Canaan that the Israelites had defeated both Yeriho and Ha-Ai, the response of the leadership of nearly all of the kingdoms in the region was to come together as one to repel the Jewish invasion of their territory. However, the people of Givon had a diametrically opposite strategy; their philosophy was “if you can’t beat ‘em, join em”. Knowing that they had been commanded to eliminate all of the inhabitants of Canaan as they conquered the land, the Givonim assumed that the Jews would be determined to annihilate them and would be totally unwilling to accept a peace agreement.

Therefore, the Givonim sent a delegation of messengers to Yehoshua that presented itself as if it had arrived from a faraway land, with worn out shoes, tattered clothing and stale provisions. The group claimed they had heard of the wonders of Hashem in Egypt and in the battles against Sihon and Og, they were deeply impressed and inspired, and they had traveled many months to visit the Jews and forge a covenant with them. Without too much deliberation and without consulting with Hashem, the Jews accepted the word of the Givonim and swore to maintain a peaceful alliance with them…Three days later, they discovered that the Givonim were, in fact, indigenous inhabitants of Canaan and not visitors from a distant realm.

The community was very upset and complained to their elders but the elders refused to dishonor the solemn oath they had taken. To satisfy the wrath of the Jewish people, the elders suggested that the Givonim be welcomed as allies of Israel but only on the condition that they become water-drawers and wood-cutters for the congregation. Yehoshua addressed the Givonim and called them out for their dishonesty, and the Givonim explain that they only misrepresented their identities in order to protect themselves from destruction. They begged Yehoshua to understand and sympathize with their plight. Yehoshua graciously spared them but commanded them to serve as wood-cutters and water-drawers for the community and for the altar of Hashem forever more.

What was it that caused the nation to accept the far-fetched story of the Givonim so quickly? Why didn’t they consult with Hashem before making such a drastic move and obligating themselves with an oath? I would suggest that they believed the story of the Givonim because they WANTED to believe it. According to the account of the Givonim, the events surrounding the Exodus and Conquest had truly sanctified Hashem’s name in the world and had elevated the Jewish people above all nations. The promise vouchsafed to us by Hashem – that all the nations on Earth would look to us for inspiration – was being fulfilled before their eyes! It should come as no surprise that the people of Israel would be thrilled to endorse the report of the Givonim that indicated that in countries across the globe, Hashem and His people were held in such lofty esteem. One of the lessons of the story is that when a narrative sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Why were the Givonim permanently made to draw water and chop wood when their deception was discovered? The elders mention that these services will be rendered to the community; Yehoshua mentions both the Tabernacle and the congregation. The Givonim claimed to have been inspired by the awesomeness of the deeds of Hashem and that they had traveled a great distance “for the sake of the name of Hashem, your God”; as a consequence, their services are dedicated to the honor of Hashem and His sanctuary.

Moreover, the deception perpetrated by the Givonim was a disrespect to the community itself; they said “we are your servants” but were actually attempting to manipulate the Jews to achieve their own purpose. This was corrected by assigning them the subordinate role of arranging for the provision of water and wood to members of the congregation. Just as the elders of Israel honored the oath and covenant they took in the name of Hashem, not deviating from the words they spoke and the promises to which they committed, so too were the Givonim compelled to honor their very own statements in describing themselves, their motives and the roles they were destined to play.


Yehoshua Chapter 8


Yehoshua Pereq #8
The second time around, Yehoshua is commanded by Hashem to attack Ha-Ai instead of initiating the battle on his own. He approaches the battle with creative strategy, capitalizing on the fact that the Jews were defeated in the first conflict. Two ambushing parties were positioned to the west of the city, one of thirty thousand men and one of five thousand men, while a third group led personally by Yehoshua would march against the city through the valley directly opposite its gates. When the people of Ha-Ai emerged to fight against the Jews, Yehoshua and his men planned to flee as if they were suffering defeat once again, further luring the enemy out of the protective walls of their city and leaving it exposed. Finally, while the citizens of Ha-Ai were distracted by the prospect of thoroughly routing the Jewish army, the ambushing group was instructed to enter and capture the city.

The plan worked perfectly; every man in Ha-Ai and Bet El chased after Yehoshua’s seemingly vulnerable group and left the city defenseless. Hashem commands Yehoshua to lift up his spear, signaling the ambushing party to conquer the city and set it aflame, and he keeps his spear aloft until the battle has concluded. The soldiers of Ha-Ai look behind them and, noticing smoke billowing up from their city, realize that they have been fooled and suddenly find themselves caught between Yehoshua’s men on one side and the ambushing party on the other.

The inhabitants of Ha-Ai are killed and its king captured and hung from a tree; however, in fulfilment of the mitzvah not to leave a dead body exposed, the corpse is removed at sunset and buried beneath a pile of stones. Ha-Ai was completely destroyed and rendered a mound of rubble, but the Jews were permitted to enjoy the spoils of war, including the cattle and other material goods they found during the battle. Since this was an attack they conducted utilizing their own strategy and manpower and was not a miraculous intervention, they were indeed entitled to claim the benefits of victory.

The chapter concludes with a description of how Yehoshua led the Jews to Mount Gerizim and Mount Eval to build an altar, offer sacrifices, write the entire Torah on large stones, and pronounce the blessings and curses upon the nation, all as Hashem expressly commanded Moshe in Devarim chapter 27. Just as the Jews had previously reenacted the experience of Passover, this served as a virtual reenactment of the receiving of the Torah – it was an affirmation of the covenant at Sinai. One of the critical questions raised by the commentaries is why they delayed the fulfillment of this commandment for so long – after all, the Torah states that these rituals must be conducted on the day that the people of Israel enter their land, and it has clearly been a while since they arrived! Rashi argues that the Book of Yehoshua is not written in chronological order and that these events actually occurred on the day they crossed the Jordan River.

Of course, this only partially solves the problem, since even if we accept Rashi’s interpretation we still must explain WHY it is recorded here and not beforehand. I would suggest that perhaps the Jews were not considered to have truly “entered the land” until they conducted a battle where they actually could lay claim to the territory and the spoils that they acquired in war. Yeriho didn’t become “their” conquest because it was totally devoted to Hashem; this time, however, they could genuinely see themselves as having inherited a portion of their new homeland. So whether the ceremony at Mt. Eval and Mt. Gerizim occurred right after they crossed the Jordan River or was indeed delayed until after the battle of Ha-Ai, the explanation is the same – it was only after the second military campaign, which they won on their own merit by virtue of intelligent strategy and real manpower, that they could be said to have “arrived” in the Land of Israel.