Who Is Joshua?

Joshua: Land, Law and Leadership

Rabbi Hayyim Angel


In this video, the first of the course, Rabbi Angel begins to explore the character of Joshua by examining his various roles and brief mention throughout the Bible, and introduces the essential question of the course: What made Joshua such a successful leader?


Let's begin with source number 1. Israel served the L-rd during the lifetime of Joshua and the lifetime of the Elders who lived on after Joshua, and who had experienced all the deeds that the L-rd had wrought for Israel. It's incredible, the Book of Joshua depicts an almost perfect generation; there were virtually no sins, only one person, a man named Achan back in Chapter 7 sinned privately. Other than that, the people are outstandingly righteous and even more incredibly they never complain. These are the same people who drove poor Moshe Rabbeinu crazy for such a long time in the desert, sinning and complaining. Perhaps there's something about Yehoshua or Joshua, something unique to his character in the way that he appears in Tanach that can help explain what made him such a successful leader. That's what we're going to explore in this segment of the Shiur.

We begin with his roots in the Torah itself. When we meet him he's actually not even introduced, we just are expected to know who he is. If you look at source number 2; Moses said to Joshua, pick some men for us and go out and do battle with Amalek. Tomorrow I will station myself on the top of the hill with the rod of G-d in my hand. Then the L-rd said to Moses, inscribe this in a document as a reminder and read it aloud to Joshua. I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under Heaven.

Who exactly is this Joshua that Moses knows to go to him from the very beginning? The Torah does not say anything. Eventually we learn that he is from the tribe of Ephraim, but we would never know, for example, what we find out only in the Book of Chronicles - Divrei Hayamim, in source number 3. Where it says; His son La'adan, his son Amihud, his son Elishama, his son Nun, his son Joshua. If you know your chieftains in the Book of Numbers you find out that Elishama Ben Amihud was the leader of the tribe of Ephraim at the time of the exodus. That would make Joshua according to this source number 3, his grandson. All the same the Torah omits reference to this and we would never know that he had such wonderful Yichus, such wonderful pedigree. It's very clear that the Torah is stressing Yehoshua's outstanding traits, rather than just the fact that he got the job because of his great connections in terms of his family.

Although Joshua appears as a general from the very beginning, we find out shortly thereafter in the Torah that he was a close spiritual disciple of Moses. If you look at source number 4 we find out that as Moses is about to go up to receive the Torah, he goes up Mount Sinai. So Moses and his attendant Joshua arose and Moses ascended the mountain of G-d. We find that Joshua is accompanying Moses while the two other leaders, Aaron and Chur are supposed to remain in the camp to take care of the people during Moses' absence. In fact, when the golden calf is built and G-d tells Moses to return to the people, Joshua is faithfully waiting at the bottom of the mountain.

This is the very first time that we hear him speak. So let's see how the Torah depicts it. Source number 5; When Joshua heard the sound of the people in its boisterousness, he said to Moses there is a cry of war in the camp. But he answered - meaning Moses answered - it is not the sound of the tune of triumph or the sound of the tune of defeat, it is the sound of song that I hear. It's pretty amazing that Joshua who goes on to become one of the most successful leaders ever speaks for the very first time that we have on record here in the Torah and he is wrong. He speaks before his master Moses and he thinks that a war is going on, when in fact there is some kind of festivity - and an incredibly negative festivity - that is going on over there. We'll bear that in mind and continue along to see Joshua's track record in the Torah as he continues to develop as Moses' disciple.

In source number 6 we learn officially that Joshua is grooming as Moses' successor, or at the very least, as a close spiritual disciple. The L-rd would speak to Moses face to face, as one man speaks to another and he would then return to the camp. But his attendant Joshua the son of Nun, a youth, would not stir out of the tent. We picture that Joshua is getting Moses' reports about the word of G-d every single time they encounter each other, he certainly can see Moses in action in front of the people. But we don't know how Joshua is relating to the people in the Torah, he seems to be somewhat secluded. Moses seems to be going in and out of the tent, whereas Joshua remains in the tent to hear what Moses has to say when he returns.

We then jump over to source number 7, when Joshua speaks for the second time in the Torah. This time there is some kind of spiritual crisis where Moses becomes despondent, hoping that G-d will give him help and G-d gives him 70 Elders who will help bear the prophetic burden. At some point a report comes to Moses and to Joshua that Eldad and Maydad, two of these individuals, are still prophesying in the camp. Source number 7; And Joshua son of Nun, Moses' attendant from his youth, spoke up and said, my lord Moses restrain them. But Moses said to him, are you wrought up on my account? Would that all the L-rd's people were prophets, that the L-rd put His Spirit upon them. Incredible, this is the very second time that Joshua is speaking in the entire Torah, he again speaks before Moses, and I'm sorry to say, again, he is wrong. Moses for a second time has to correct him.

Of course Joshua needs to learn the ropes of leadership, but it's incredible that the few times that the Torah quotes him, so far he has a poor track record. This is not lost on the Medrash. In Kohelet Raba in source number 8 there's a growing concern about how Joshua is going to function as a leader. There were two statements of Joshua which Moses did not find favorable. One was regarding the appointment of Elders and the other was at the golden calf. Regarding the golden calf Moses said, Joshua, who will one day lead 600,000 people, is unable to distinguish between different types of voices.

Here this Medrash of our sages penetrates to an initial concern that we readers can have, trying to create a composite portrait of Joshua. We see that he has spoken up twice and even though he's never leaving the tent, he's so spiritual, he's absorbing all of Moses' prophecy, he somehow is not necessarily looking like he's going to become an incredibly effective leader. To the contrary, it sounds like he's struggling to even understand where the people are at, and this Medrash projects that concern into Moses' own mouth.

This brings us to the next major episode where Joshua appears and this is the one where perhaps he is even more famous, as he is selected as one of the 12 spies. We find out that the 12 spies go and scout the land for 40 days, and then they return with their report. We all know what happened, it's a disaster. The bad spies speak up and say, oh my goodness, they're so strong. Then heroically source number 9, we know that there are two good spies, right, Joshua and Kalev. Amazingly though, exactly at the moment in crisis where the spies are saying negative things about the land, we see in source number 9; Kalev hushed the people before Moses and said, let us by all means go up and we shall gain possession of it, for we shall surely overcome it. But the men who had gone up with him said, we cannot attack that people for it is stronger than we. Of course this leads to the great crisis where people panic, they cry, and G-d decrees that they are to wander for 40 years.

Now the question that we should all be asking is, where is Joshua? How come Joshua did not speak up, leaving this all to Kalev? It's only after the people despair and panic, that finally source number 10 we find the so-called two good spies; And Joshua the son of Nun and Kalev the son of Yefuneh, of those who had scouted the land, rent their clothes. If the L-rd is pleased with us, He will bring us into that land. A land that flows with milk and honey and give it to us. Only, you must not rebel against the L-rd. Have no fear then of the people of the country, for they are our prey. Their protection has departed from them, but the L-rd is with us. Have no fear of them. As the whole community threatened to pelt them with stones, the presence of the L-rd appeared in the Tent of Meeting to all the Israelites. So finally Joshua and Kalev both stick their necks out and are threatened by the people, and then finally G-d shows up and intervenes, saving the day.

But in the meantime we're left to ponder why was Joshua silent the first time around? Why did he allow this crisis to get to the point before he finally stood up next to Kalev, saying, we have to do what we can, we have to enter, have faith in G-d. This is the question that we will begin to address in our next clip.

Please sign in or sign up to comment.