parsha of the week

Changing names, changing the paths of our lives


After listing the names of the leaders set to spy the Land, the Torah informs us that Moshe changed Hoshea bin Nun’s name to Yehoshua. The fact that his name is mentioned prior to this as Yehoshua is the Torah’s way of referring to something or someone “al shem sofo  (based on how it will turn out). The Torah has the benefit of hindsight to be able to do that.

Why was Yehoshua’s name changed? Rashi explains that  Moshe prayed “Kah yoshiakha me’atzat meraglim,” that G-d should save you from the scheme of the spies. If indeed Moshe uttered such a prayer, it’s fair to assume that he knew the spies mission would end horribly. If so, why did he go ahead with it?

The Torah Temimah explains that Moshe did not actually read the future insofar as human behavior is concerned. He was concerned for Yehoshua, his student, his protégé, who was a descendant of Yosef. It is certainly not farfetched to expect that some of the spies would come back with negative reports. Perhaps there would be an equal balance of positivity and negativity so that they could debate about strategy!

But could anticipate that it would be 10 to 2, an overwhelming majority, and that the path they’d pick would get overwhelming support from the people to reject the Promised Land?

Yehoshua was a descendant of Yosef, the same Yosef who spoke ill (dibbah) about his brothers. The same Yosef who accused his brothers of being meraglim (spies) when they came to Egypt looking for food. There is a history in Yehoshua which needs attention (though why Gadi ben Susi of Menashe is ignored is a reasonable question) and Moshe is doing what he can. (See Kli Yakar!)

In his Otzar HaChaim, Rabbi Chaim Zuckerman suggests that what Moshe actually prayed was “Kah Yoshiakha” (the play on words that leads to the name Yehoshua) and that he left out the words “me’atzat meraglim,” a phrase added by the Rabbis at a later period, in hindsight to what actually happened.

Of course Yosef’s name had also been changed when he became viceroy in Egypt. Perhaps a name change is an indicator of good fortune to come. It is also possible that what worked for the ancestor might work for the descendant.

There are a few takeaway messages from this story.

First, with all the positivity that accompanies every undertaking, we must always be prepared for the contingency of failure. Case in point — Yehoshua emerges from this story unscathed, while all other spies (with the exception of Kalev) are destroyed.

Second, having a relationship with a leader is to one’s greater benefit than not having such a relationship. Surely everyone viewed Moshe as their master and teacher. But Yehoshua, with rare exception, did not leave Moshe’s tent. He was constantly at Moshe’s side, looking out for his teacher’s best interests, and doing whatever possible to promote his teacher’s honor. And so, knowing Yehoshua much better than he knew the others, Moshe was looking out for him specifically.

While truly honest leaders love all of their constituents, it is hard not to care slightly more for those with whom there is a relationship. Which begs the question: upon whom is the onus of making that relationship stronger, to the point of flourishing? Some think it is the leader’s job to reach out, make phone calls, visit, open one’s home. Others see it as the job of the constituent to reach out, to bask in the feet of the leader (as per Avot’s teaching), in order to strengthen and maintain that relationship.

Having seen and experienced both sides of this, I would suggest either approach is largely a reflection of the personalities of both parties.

We don’t know a lot about the relationship between Moshe and Yehoshua. We know who was the master and who was the student. We know the Yehoshua defended Moshe’s honor (think Eldad and Meidad), and we know that Moshe looked out for Yehoshua’s safety (spies story) and that Moshe ultimately was given the greatest gift, that the person closest to him in the last stage of his life became his successor.

May our relationships be blessed to be as close as that of Moshe and Yehoshua.