Weekly Cycle

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Desert in Words: "Eclipse" in Leadership and the Torah Portion of Haazinu

In the Torah portion of Haazinu, we come across a very interesting verse:
And Moses came and spoke all the words of this song into the ears of the people he and Hoshea the son of Nun. (Devarim 31:44)
There appears to be an obvious contradiction/question within the verse itself: Who actually spoke the words of the song? Was it Moshe or was it Moshe and Yehoshuah together?
In order to answer this question, it is important to look into the previous Torah portion, Vayelech, which serves as an introduction to the song Haazinu itself. G-d's commandment regarding the song was not just to Moshe, but to Moshe and Yehoshuah together (Devarim 31:16-30):
14. And the Lord said to Moses, "Behold, your days are approaching [for you] to die. Call Joshua and stand in the Tent of Meeting, and I will inspire him. So Moses and Joshua went, and stood in the Tent of Meeting. (…)
19. And now, write for yourselves (plural) this song, and teach it to the Children of Israel. Place it into their mouths, in order that this song will be for Me as a witness for the children of Israel.
Rashi - this song: [This refers to the passage beginning with] הַאֲזִינוּ הַשָּׁמַיִם [until] וְכִפֶּר אַדְמָתוֹ עַמּוֹ (Deut. 32:1-43).
Yet, we see that it was not Yehoshua who wrote down the song, but Moshe:
22. And Moses wrote this song on that day, and taught it to the children of Israel.

23. And He [Rashi states that this refers to G-d] commanded Joshua the son of Nun, and said: "Be strong and courageous! For you shall bring the children of Israel to the land that I have sworn to them, and I will be with you."

24. And it was, when Moses finished writing the words of this Torah in a scroll, until their very completion,
Moshe, in the conclusion to the Torah portion of Vayelech, further states:
28. Assemble to me all the elders of your tribes and your officers, and I will speak these words into their ears, and I will call upon the heaven and the earth as witnesses against them.
29. For I know that after my death, you will surely become corrupted, and deviate from the way which I had commanded you. Consequently, the evil will befall you at the end of days, because you did evil in the eyes of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger through the work of your hands.
30. Then, Moses spoke into the ears of the entire assembly of Israel the words of the following song, until their completion.
We are left with at least a couple more questions. If Moshe is still the leader and the one that ultimately performs Hashem’s commandment, why is Yehoshuah included at all in the commandment, as why does verse 31:44 imply that he was also the one that spoke the song to the Jewish people? And if Yehoshuah is also the one commanded to act, why doesn’t he do so?
Now let us examine Rashi’s comments to our initial verse:
And Moses came and spoke all the words of this song into the ears of the people he and Hoshea the son of Nun. (Devarim 31:44)
He and Hoshea the son of Nun: It was the Sabbath upon which there were two leaders, authority was taken from one and given to the other. — [Sotah 13b]
Rashi continues:
Moses appointed a meturgeman [literally, an interpreter, here a spokesman] for Joshua, [to relay to the public what Joshua said,] so that Joshua could expound [on the Torah] in Moses’ lifetime, so that Israel would not say [to Joshua], “During your teacher’s lifetime you did not dare to raise your head!” - [Sifrei 31:1]
Rashi further notes, still under the same verse:
And why does Scripture here call him Hoshea [for his name had long since been changed to Joshua (see Numb. 13:16)]. To imply [lit., to say] that Joshua did not become haughty, for although he was given high status, he humbled himself as he was at the beginning [when he was still called Hoshea]. — [Sifrei 32:44]
Even though (as we mentioned in the last post) there can only be one leader, Rashi states that for this "Sabbath" there were actually two. The word Sabbath is particularly appropriate here, because just as the Sabbath is the culmination of the previous week and the foundation of the next, so too here, it was the culmination of Moshe's leadership and the foundation of Yehoshua's.
Rashi does nevertheless state that Moshe was the one that spoke the words of the song. It appears that, out of awe and reverence for his teacher, Yehoshua could not bring himself to act in any way that could make him comparable to Moshe. Yehoshua’s reluctance is so strong, to the point that Hashem Himself, exclaims (as cited above) ""Be strong and courageous! For you shall bring the children of Israel to the land that I have sworn to them, and I will be with you." (Devarim 31:23) Moshe therefore appointed someone to amplify Yehoshua's words so that he could expound on the words of song and that all could hear him, further empowering Yehoshua as the new leader.
It would seem odd that Rashi comments that Moshe made Yehoshua speak in public in order to counter those that would say, "During your teacher’s lifetime you did not dare to raise your head!" After all, that is exactly what a person is supposed to do when one is before his teacher! Not only that, we actually learn this particular lesson from Joshua himself, who previously answered a single question in front of Moses, ultimately causing him to remain childless. Here however, the situation is quite different because Yehoshua is no longer only the disciple of Moshe, but actually already the leader himself. For this brief moment, Moshe and Yehoshua’s leadership eclipsed (literally, given that Moshe is compared to the sun and Yehoshua to the moon).
Finally, Rashi notes that despite this empowerment, Yehoshua humbled himself, just as he was at the beginning of his tutelage. It is not just that Yehoshua had become the leader and humbled himself, but that he was made to play a leadership role while Moshe, the greatest prophet of all time, was still alive and well. Despite the potential for Yehoshua, even if for a split second, to see himself as higher than Moshe, he nevertheless saw himself simply as Hoshea, which was his name before Moshe’s blessing, which changed his name to Yehoshua. Yehoshua knew that he owed everything to Moshe: not only his name, but also the very essence of who he had now become as the leader of the Jewish people.

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