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Yehoshua Bin Nun

Parsha Halacha - Parshat Pinchas

Yehoshua Bin Nun

Devoted Servant, Assiduous Scholar, and Exemplary Leader 

Sponsored by Todd and Tina Stock in honor of Todd’s Parents

Parsha Halacha is underwritten by a grant from Dr. Stephen and Bella Brenner and Dr. Morton Berg in loving memory of Stephen's father, Shmuel Tzvi ben Pinchas, and Bella's parents, Avraham ben Yitzchak and Leah bas HaRav Sholom Zev HaCohen.


Click here for a print version of this article 


In the Torah portion of Pinchas, Moshe Rabeinu (our teacher) asks G-d to appoint a leader for the next generation since it was decreed that he would pass away and would not enter the Land of Israel. G-d informs him that the next leader will be his student Yehoshua, the son of Nun, as the verse says,[1] “And G-d answered Moshe, ‘Take Yehoshua bin Nun, a man with the spirit in him, and lay your hand upon him.’” 

As to the meaning of “a man with the spirit in him,” the commentaries offer various interpretations:

●      Rashi says that it means that he should be able to deal with each person and their temperament. 

●      According to Ibn Ezra, it refers to a man of strength (i.e., a strong character).

●      The Seforno says that it refers to a man who will have the spirit of G-d in him, in line with how Onkelus translates “spirit” to mean  a prophetic spirit. Indeed, Yehoshua experienced prophecy many times as described in the Book of Yehoshua.[2]

●      According to the Ohr HaChaim, G-d was indicating that Yehoshua had a root soul which included within itself the souls (spirit) of his entire generation. In this sense, he was similar to his teacher Moshe who had a similar soul.[3]

●      Rabbi Yosef ben Yitzchak Bechor Shor (a student of Rabeinu Tam of 12th Century France) explains that Yehoshua had a spirit of strength, wisdom, and fear of Heaven which made him fit to be a leader.

●      Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Berlin explains (in his sefer Ha’amek Davar) that Yehoshua was strong-willed and did not follow sudden whims or bend to pressure from the whims of others.

This article will discuss the background of Yehoshua and some of the highlights of his life. 

Lineage

Yehoshua was the grandson of the leader of the tribe of Ephraim, Elishama ben Amihud.[4]

Age

When Yehoshua passed away, he was 110 years old.[5] According to one tradition,[6]he led the Jewish people for 28 years. Based on this, he was 42 at the time of the exodus and 82 when he succeeded Moshe as leader. Others say[7] that he only led the Jewish people for 14 years during which time he conquered and divided the land. According to this opinion, he was 56 at the time of the Exodus and 96 when he succeeded Moshe. Although the verse soon after the Exodus[8] refers to him as a נַעַר, which usually means a “lad,” in this context that word can be translated as an “assistant.”

Highlights of his Life

Here are some of the highlights of Yehoshua’s illustrious career:

●      Fearless Warrior

He was chosen by Moshe to lead the Jewish army in battle against the Amalekites, a task he fulfilled successfully, as the verse says,[9] “And Yehoshua and his nation weakened Amalek by the sword.”

●      Devoted Servant

He waited 40 days at the foot of Mount Sinai for Moshe to return with the Tablets.[10]According to our sages,[11] while he was there, a portion of Manna fell for him on a daily basis that was equivalent to the portion received by all the other Jewish people. The Maharsha explains that this was a spiritual portion of Manna and that it indicating that Yehoshua’s soul was related to all the souls of the Jewish people (see above). Indeed, he is compared to the moon[12] which is often used as a symbol for the Jewish people.[13]

He then returned to the camp with Moshe only to witness the worship of the golden calf and breaking of the Tablets.[14]

●      Assiduous Student

The Torah records that Yehoshua never left the tent of Moshe, his teacher.[15]

According to the Midrash,[16] in his capacity as Moshe’s assistant he would carry Moshe’s bucket (and other bathing utensils) to the bathhouse. He would also wake up early every morning and gather the choicest pieces of manna for Moshe.

During the 40 years in the desert Yehoshua would study Torah constantly.[17] He would rise early in the morning to go to Moshe’s Beit Midrash (study hall) and would stay there until late at night. He would arrange the benches and spread out the floor mats for the students. In this merit he was chosen as the next leader. In keeping with the verse,[18] “He who guards the fig tree shall eat its fruits.”[19]

The allusion to a fig tree is significant as the Midrash points out that figs, unlike other fruit, ripen at different times rather than all at once. Similarly, one cannot acquire Torah all at once, but must acquire it a little bit at a time.[20] In addition, the Talmud says[21] that a fig gets ruined as soon as it falls to the ground. Therefore, it must be watched carefully and picked at just the right time. Similarly, in order to be successful in Torah study, one must always “guard” one’s studies from being forgotten by constantly reviewing them[22].[23]

  • Moshe’s Advocate 

When Eldad and Meidad prophesized that Moshe would pass away and Yehoshua would bring the Jewish people into the Land of Israel, Yehoshua protested this apparent insolence towards Moshe and requested that Eldad and Meidad be incarcerated. Moshe, on the other hand, was more forgiving and said that he wished that all of the Jews would be prophets (i.e., they should not be punished for expressing a prophecy of G-d.)[24]

  • A Good Spy

Yehoshua was chosen to represent the tribe of Ephraim as a spy of the land of Canaan.[25] Before he left, Moshe changed his name from Hoshe’a to Yehoshua.[26] Yehoshua and Kalev, son of Yefuneh, were the only spies who brought back a positive report about the Land of Israel and were therefore promised that they would merit to enter the land and inherit their portions.[27]

  • The Chosen Leader

As mentioned above, Yehoshua was appointed by G-d to lead the Jewish people in the Torah portion of Pinchas. What precipitated that discussion was that G-d instructed Moshe to give the portion of Tzelofchod to his daughters as an inheritance. Moshe reasoned, if even daughters can inherit, how much more so can his sons inherit his position. G-d therefore informed him that Yehoshua was selected due to his extraordinary devotion to Torah study and to his serving and honoring his teacher Moshe.[28]

What Was Moshe Thinking?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe points out[29] that Moshe Rabeinu knew that his sons had not excelled in their studies as had Yehoshua, yet he still asked that they be appointed as leaders. Moshe’s intention was[30] that they should be the military leaders of the Jewish people while Yehoshua would be the Torah leader. G-d explained that He wanted these two positions to be occupied by one person who would fulfill both rolls.[31] Only Yehoshua was fit for this.

This explains why Moshe did not anoint Yehoshua with oil as is done when anointing a king,[32] despite the fact that Yehoshua, like Moshe, was considered a king.[33] This is because his status as king was an outgrowth of his Torah leadership which was transferred through smicha (placing the hands upon his head) rather than by being anointed with oil.

  • Torah Teacher

Before Moshe passed away, he had Yehoshua be his interpreter (i.e., explain the Torah lessons to the people). He also placed both hands on him to symbolize the transfer of knowledge, leadership, and Divine insight.[34]

Age When Appointed

It is noteworthy that, according to the opinion of the Seder Olam (cited above), Yehoshua was 82 when he took over as leader of the Jewish people, which is nearly the same age as Moshe who began his leadership at the age of 80.[35]

Marriage and Children

After conquering Jericho, Yehoshua married Rachav HaZonah and had daughters with her. It is noteworthy that Moshe also married a woman who converted from a foreign nation.[36] Yehoshua had many illustrious descendants from these daughters. 

Devotion to Torah

It is also noteworthy that apparently[37] Yehoshua did not get married until after the age of 82 (or 96, see above). It has been suggested[38] that this was a result of his complete devotion to Torah study and to his serving Moshe. As it says,[39] “And his lad (attendant) Yehoshua never left the tent.” In this sense he resembled Moshe who separated from his wife from the time of the Sinai revelation and onwards.[40]

Good Shidduch at an Old Age

It has been pointed out that Yehoshua was 82 (or 96) when he married Rachav who was (at least) 50 years old at that time.[41] This was the first marriage for both of them,[42] and they went on to establish an illustrious family. This is a good lesson for older singles to never give up on trying to find a shidduch![43]


There is a lot more to talk about Yehoshua’s conquering the land. With G-d’s help we will discuss that in another article.


[1] Numbers 27:18

[2] See Joshua 1:14:2 and 155:29 and 13 and in many other places. 

[3] See Ohr HaChaim on Numbers 27:16

[4] I Chronicles, 7:26 and 27. See Metzodot David on the verse

[5] Joshua 24:29

[6] Seder Olam Rabbah 12

[7] Ibn Ezra on Exodus 33:11

[8] Exodus, ibid

[9] Ibid 17:13

[10] Ibid 24:13 and 32:17

[11] Yoma 76a

[12] See Bava Batra 75a that the face of Moshe was like the sun while the face of Yehoshua was like the moon,

[13] as we say in the monthly blessing on the moon, “They [the Jewish people] will be renewed like [the moon]”

[14] Exodus 32:17

[15] Ibid, 33:11

[16] Midrash Perek Tzedakot, quoted in Torah Shleima on Numbers 11:28

[17] See Tana Devei Eliyahu Zuta 13 that “Yehoshua never stopped studying Torah from when he was a child until his old age.”

[18] Proverbs 27:18

[19] Bamidbar Rabbah 21:14

[20] Ibid 15

[21] Bava Batra 21b

[22] See Rambam, Laws of Torah Study 3:6, who says, “A person whose heart inspires him to fulfill this mitzvah in a fitting manner and to become crowned with the crown of Torah should not divert his attention to other matters…”

[23] Pri Mussar by Rabbi Yoel Stanitzky (Jerusalem 2009) on Parshat Pinchas, page 202

[24] Numbers 11:28

But see Sanhedrin 17a that Moshe never heard the complete prophecy of Eldad and Meidad. It seems that, had he heard it, he may not have been so forgiving. The Chida (in Petach Einayim) explains that Moshe would have been upset since a good prophecy cannot be reversed (see Rambam, Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 10:8). So once Elded and Meidad said that Yehoshua would bring the Jews into the land (which is a good prophecy in terms of Yehoshua), the fate of Moshe was essentially, sealed.

[25] Ibid 13:8

[26] Ibid verse 16

[27] Ibid 14:7 and 38 see also Deut. 1:38

[28] Bamidbar Rabbah ibid

[29] Likutei Sichot vol. 23, page 191 and on

[30] Megaleh Amukot, Ofan 1

[31] Although in later generations these roles were split (the king was the military leader while the Sanhedrin and the prophets of the generation were the Torah leaders), Moshe and Yehoshua were unique in terms of being the main “conduits” of Torah to the Jewish people. (See Pirkei Avot 1:1). As such, all of the major leadership roles in their generation were their sphere.

[32] Rambam, Laws of Kings 1:7

[33] See ibid, halacha 3.

[34] See the commentaries on Numbers 27:18 and 23.

[35] Exodus 7:7

[36] Ibid 2:21

[37] There is no record of Yehoshua having a wife other than Rachav or children other than his daughters with Rachav. As such, it seems that he did not marry until that point.

[38] Rabbi Bentziyon Abba Shaul (grandson of Rabbi Bentziyon Abba Shaul), in Birkat Tziyon on Parshat Ki Tissa

[39] Exodus 33:11

[40] See Numbers 12:1 and Rashi as well as verse 8 with Rashi.

[41] The Talmud (Zevachim 116b) says that Rachav was 10 years old at the time of the Exodus which would mean that she was 50 when the Jewish people conquered Jericho. (Although it is not clear as to when exactly Yehoshua married her.)

[42] This can be derived from the verse (Joshua 2:18 and 6:25) which describes how her entire family was spared when Jericho was conquered. While her parents and siblings are mentioned, there is no mention of a husband or children.

[43] Rabbi Baruch Dadon of Mevaseret Tziyon in Mere’ach Nicho’ach, Gilyon 492, page 28


Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom Umevorach!

Tue, May 21 2024 13 Iyyar 5784