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Joshua: Land, Law and Leadership
Video 4 of 6
Malbim takes this analysis one-step further in his commentary on Exodus. If you look at sources 23 and 24, there are many parallels between the Moses narratives and the Joshua narratives, all trying to show that Joshua was a faithful successor of his master Moses. But even though he was a successor and even though there are parallels, there are always subtle, little differences. So in source number 23 when Moses was at the Burning Bush; He said, do not come closer, remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground. In the Hebrew it's; Shal na'alecha me'al raglecha. In source number 24, Joshua encounters an Angel right before Joshua attacks the city of Jericho in the first battle of the Book of Joshua. It says here; the Captain of the L-rd's Host answered Joshua, remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy and Joshua did so. It sounds like a parallel, carbon copy, of what happened with Moses. But in the Hebrew it says; Shal na'alcha me'al raglecha - which literally means take off your shoe, or sandal, singular. Not shoes or sandals plural.
On the Pshat level it's quite plausible that the translation that we just read from the JPS is correct and that we should not make a fuss over Na'alecha in Moses' case, or Na'alcha in Joshua's case. But Malbim doesn't make a deal about it, because he says that wearing shoes to the Talmudic thought, and perhaps even in Biblical, is a sign of one's humanity. For example, we have to remove our shoes visiting Temple Mount, and on Yom Kippur we also remove our shoes to show that we are elevated like Angels. On the flipside of it, mourners, whether individual mourners who just suffered the loss of a loved one, or all of us on Tisha B'Av, we remove our shoes again, as a sign of dehumanization. So shoes, at least in terms of Talmudic thought, and perhaps projecting back to Biblical thought, represents one's humanity, and therefore Moses and Joshua remove their sandals to show that they are connected in a certain sense to G-d, they're being elevated.
Okay, Moses removes both of his sandals because when he communicates with G-d he is completely in G-d's world. There is no part of him that remains this-world-ly. In contrast Joshua removes one sandal while leaving the other one on, and this is reflective of Joshua's connection to Moses' world of prophecy and the human world of keeping one shoe on, never losing his humanity. That's an extension not only of the personality but what actually happened in Moses' leadership career versus Joshua's leadership career. Moses led the people in the desert, which was a supernatural experience; they got miraculous Manna from heaven, miraculous fountains to give them water, G-d overtly protected them in every sense. When Joshua brings the people across the Jordan River into Canaan, there are still miracles, G-d is still visibly with the people, but there's no question that they have an increasing role to play in the taking responsibility for their own actions.
Joshua's one-sandal-on-and-one-sandal-off leadership is perfect for this transition between the world of Moses, who has both shoes off, both sandals off, and the world which is coming ahead, which is two shoes on, two sandals on, where the people are going to have to build the land, have an army, grow tomatoes, do everything that they need to do in a real-world society.
Joshua's combination of Moses' faith and the people's real-world-nes and fears diminish his objective greatness. There's no question that Moses was the greatest prophet, there's no question that Moses' faith is unparalleled in our history. But that being said, these shortcomings from an objective point of view appear to be exactly the key to Joshua success. The people never needed to complain to him or grumble or fear anything, because they knew that Joshua was one of them, he was somebody who had the ability to take Moses' teachings and bring it to a doubting, questioning people. That makes him one of the most exciting and effective leaders of all time.
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