“Moses Called Hoshea the Son of Nun, ‘Joshua’”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this week’s parasha, parashat Shelach-Lecha, the tragic story of the scouts is recounted. The scouts’ negative report about their visit to the land of Canaan resulted in a 40 year trek in the wilderness for all the People of Israel, and the Divine decree that all of the men now over age 20 will pass away before entering the Promised Land.

In Numbers 13:2, G-d tells Moses, שְׁלַח לְךָ אֲנָשִׁים, וְיָתֻרוּ אֶת אֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי נֹתֵן לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, אִישׁ אֶחָד אִישׁ אֶחָד לְמַטֵּה אֲבֹתָיו תִּשְׁלָחוּ, כֹּל נָשִׂיא בָהֶם, “Send forth men, if you please, and let them spy out the land of Canaan that I give to the Children of Israel; one man each from his father’s tribe shall you send, every one a leader among them.”

When the complete list of names of the scouts is finally recorded, the Torah reports, in Numbers 13:16, וַיִּקְרָא מֹשֶׁה לְהוֹשֵׁעַ בִּן-נוּן, יְהוֹשֻׁעַ, Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun, “Joshua.”

Rashi, citing the Midrash Tanchuma 6 and Talmud Sotah 34b, explains that Moses actually prayed for Hoshea: יָ־הּ יוֹשִׁיעֲךָ מֵעֲצַת מְרַגְּלִים, May G-d save you [Joshua] from the plot of the spies. The commentators explain that Moses added the Hebrew letter י , yud, to the name Hoshea, so that the name of G-d would be embedded in the new name, “Yehoshua.” This would, hopefully, give Joshua strength to resist the temptations of the evil scouts whose negative report about the land would lead the people to rebel, resist and refuse to go to the land they had visited, which they were told, was inhabited by giants who would attack and destroy the people.

With Moses’ blessing and the name of G-d embedded in his name, Joshua was able to resist the influence of the ten wicked scouts.

But what about the loyal scout Caleb? Why was he not blessed? Rashi responds to this question by citing the verse, Numbers 13:22, וַיַּעֲלוּ בַנֶּגֶב, וַיָּבֹא עַד חֶבְרוֹן , they [the scouts] ascended in the south and HE arrived at Hebron. Rashi explains that while the scouts ascended in the south, Caleb went alone to Hebron and prostrated himself in prayer over the graves of the patriarchs beseeching their blessing so that he should not be seduced by the evil plan of his companions.

Why did Moses pray only for Joshua and not for Caleb and the other scouts? The Targum Yonatan suggests that Moses realized that Joshua specifically needed additional help, because his humility and modesty would make him vulnerable to the influence of the fellow spies.

Gur Aryeh however, posits that Moses prayed specifically for Joshua because if Joshua were to sin, it would reflect poorly on Moses, his mentor. People would conclude that Joshua must have absorbed his lack of faith from his teacher.

The Chofetz Chaim theorizes that Moses recognized the personality differences between Joshua and Caleb. Joshua was, by this time, already a man of significant stature, who was in a position to speak up and oppose the scouts. That act would put Joshua in grave danger. Therefore, Moses prayed for him. But, Caleb, was far more reticent and kept to himself. Not knowing whether Caleb supported their rebellion or not, Caleb would not be in danger and consequently needed no blessing from Moses.

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik argues that the letter “yud” was added to the name Hoshea to make the new name Yehoshua, יהוֹשֻׁעַ. The “yud” represents ten, equaling the influence of the ten evil scouts, providing power for Joshua to resist them.

But, why again didn’t Moses bless all of the scouts? Rashi, citing Tanchuma 4, notes, וְאוֹתָהּ שָׁעָה כְּשֵׁרִים הָיוּ, at that moment they [the scouts] were all righteous and only became corrupt when they were intimidated by the powerful residents that they saw while they were in the land.

Another possible answer may be found in the rabbinic dictum, בְּדֶרֶךְ שֶׁאָדָם רוֹצֶה לֵילֵךְ, בָּהּ מוֹלִיכִין אוֹתוֹ, (Makkot 10b), [Heaven] allows a person to follow the road he wishes to pursue. While all the scouts were originally righteous, they were not fully committed to the land of Israel with all their heart and soul. As they moved through the land, they looked over their shoulders perhaps thinking that the grass was greener in the wilderness or some other place.

Joshua and Caleb, on the other hand, were visionaries who were able to dream that even though the land of Canaan was now filled with giants and possibly, barbarians, the land could certainly be turned into a proper land, a land flowing with milk and honey. That was the way their hearts wanted to go, and that’s the way G-d led Joshua and Caleb. He, therefore, gave them the strength and fortitude to overcome the powerful influence of the other 10 scouts.

Joshua and Caleb resist the most powerful peer pressure, and in their merit, the land of Israel eventually becomes the homeland of the People of Israel.

May you be blessed.