Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Shlach Lecha
To dedicate this lesson

When Silence Is Not Golden


Rabbi Stewart Weiss

Sivan 17 5776
"And Moshe called Hoshea ben Nun, ‘Yehoshua.’ "

In advance of sending out the M’raglim to scout the Land of Israel, to discern its strengths and weaknesses, Moshe changes the name of his faithful disciple from Hoshea to Yehoshua, adding a "Yud," so that the first 2 letters spell out the name for Hashem. It also now means, "May you be saved" (from the influence of the other spies).

But was Yehoshua’s name not changed much earlier, when he began to apprentice to Moshe? And why did Moshe reach out to Yehoshua, and not to Calev? And why does the phrase, " V'elah Ha-Shemot, and these are the names (of the spies)" both precede and follow the actual names? In fact, that phrase is entirely unnecessary in the text!

Clearly, the Torah is telling us that names are crucial; they are the key to understanding one’s strength and personality. Indeed, the bestowing of a particular name upon someone has the power to imbue him or her with certain qualities and mystically help and protect him.

Calev, as the pasuk points out, descends from Yehuda & inherits his persona. Yehuda is a lion, unafraid to stand up and speak out when necessary, just as Yehuda stood up to Yosef in Egypt & spoke out in defense of Binyamin; just as Yehuda's future descendant David stood up to and spoke out against Galyat. In fact, "Calev" can be read as "Kelev," a dog, who is always ready to "bark."

But Yehoshua is different; he descends from Yosef. His family DNA is strong on holding back, remaining stoically silent in the most difficult of situations. So Rachel is silent when Yakov marries her sister Leah; Yosef waits patiently to reveal his identity to his brothers; Binyamin does not tell his father that his brothers sold Yosef into slavery; Esther does not reveal, until the last, critical moment, that she is Jewish, etc.

Moshe knows this, and wants to be sure that Yehoshua will NOT hold back in this situation, that he will speak out forcefully against the other spies and positively motivate the nation. And so, to fortify and embolden him, he gives him a name that incorporates Hashem; it is recorded here and now, when it most comes into play.

In the Amida’s Elokai N’tzor, we first ask G-d to help us hold our tongue, to be silent when verbally attacked by our antagonists. But then we suddenly change our posture; we demand that our foes be thwarted. Why the change? Says Rav Zev Leff: We introduced a new sentence, the desire to embrace Torah and Mitzvot ("Open our hearts to Torah; let our souls pursue Your Mitzvot."). While we can remain silent when we are personally confronted, we can never be passive or meek when it is the Torah or Hashem's Mitzvot that are being challenged. And so Moshe fortified Yehoshua, urging him to counter his natural tendency to hold back, and instead rise to the defense of
G-d, Torah and Israel.

That crucial message not only applies to Yehoshua; it is a mandate to each and every one of us.
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