Thursday, June 04, 2020

There are many puzzling aspects to parshat Shelach. One of these is Moshe changing Hoshea’s name to Yehoshua. The gemara, brought down by Rashi, states Moshe changed his student’s name as a prayer. Moshe asked that HaShem save Hoshea/Yehoshua from the spies’ counsel. This of course raises numerous questions.

If Moshe thought that the spies would sin, why did he not send others in their place? Why did Moshe only pray for Yehoshua? Why not pray for all of them? Why did Calev not require a blessing and only Yehoshua? Are we to think that Yehoshua was inferior to Calev? A resolution of this conundrum came from my eight year old daughter’s affection for a particular midrash.

As we know, our first matriarch was originally named Sarai and HaShem changed her name to Sara. He did this by removing the letter “Yud” and adding the letter “Hey.” The change of name was a change of destiny. She went from being childless to being a mother. The Midrash Rabba for Lech LeCha (47:1) tells us that she went from being Sarai, a princess for herself and her husband to a princess for all the world. She went from being isolated, as often the childless are, to being part of a larger fellowship, part of the larger world. The Midrash Rabba, however, states that the name change did not come without objection.

The “Yud” complained to HaShem that it was unfair for it to be removed from the name of Sarai the righteous. HaShem comforted the “Yud” stating that: “in the past you were at the end of a female name. I will put you at the beginning of a male name.” The Midrash then goes on to point out that the “Yud” taken from Sarai’s name became the “Yud” added to Yehoshua’s name.

Some time ago I came across the D’var Torah, the source of which and the author of which sadly I do not recall, which further developed this midrash. This D’var Torah stated that the “Yud” of Sarai’s name engendered isolation. Moshe in giving to this “Yud” to Yehoshua, transferred that isolation to him thereby protecting him from the spies’ counsel. Both my daughter and I like the midrash and this gloss on the midrash. It still, however, does not solve the problems we mentioned at the outset. The answer I think lies in the nature of a blessing.

Often a blessing’s purpose is to help develop a characteristic already latent in the person or thing being blessed. Thus, Yakkov’s blessings of Ruven, Shimon and Levi, although appearing to be criticisms, are in fact blessings. Yakkov’s blessings noted negatively manifested characteristics these three children possessed. By highlighting them Yaakov provided his sons an opportunity to evolve those characteristics from something negative to something positive. The greatest success, of course, lay with Levi whoed tribe used its zeal in defense of HaShem at the time of Chet HaEgel.

Within Yehoshua was the potential for leadership. Often a leadership position results in isolation. Leaders must often make unpopular, difficult decisions and choices. Moshe wanted Yehoshua to be the leader of the espionage expedition. Moshe wanted Yehoshua to be comfortable with the possibility of being isolated as a result of taking an unpopular position. The “Yud” of Sarai’s name would facilitate that isolation. Moshe did not pray or change the name of the other spies including Calev because he feared their intents. Rather, he changed Yehoshua name to help bring out his leadership qualities.

The “Yud” is part HaShem’s name. The Children of Israel are the standard-bearers of HaShem’s name. Even today, if not especially today, we need to take a lesson from Moshe, Yehoshua and the “Yud.” We need to remember that as standard bearers of HaShem’s name and his Torah, we may often be forced to take positions that set us apart from the rest of society. Although at times this may be difficult for us, it is our destiny. We should think of the blessing that Moshe bestowed on Yehoshua—that additional “Yud.” That “Yud” should remind us of our connection and obligation to HaShem. We must become comfortable with the idea that if we are properly to fulfill our mission, we may need to separate ourselves from the madding crowd. If we do, then, similar to Yehoshua, we may be allowed entry into the Promised Land.

By William S.J. Fraenkel


William S.J. Fraenkel received a Bachelor of Arts in religion and a law degree from NYU. He is the very pleased father of an SAR student who has a fondness for midrashim.

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