|June 2, 2010
Parashat Sh'lah L'kha
Joshua ben Nun: Joshua was appointed by Moses to be his successor and to lead the conquest of Canaan. Joshua was also one of the twelve spies whom Moses sent out to spy out the future land of Israel. This morning's Torah portion tells their story. Of the original twelve spies who were chosen only Joshua and Caleb were not intimidated by the Canaanite culture and returned to provide Moses with the feedback he needed. (Numbers 14:30-33). Joshua's birth name was Hosea. Moses changed it in this morning's Torah portion. Joshua was selected to represent the tribe of Ephraim
Caleb ben Jephunneh: was selected to represent the tribe of Judah
Rahab: A woman who by modern standards would be considered of questionable virtue. She lived and worked in the city of Jericho.
How often have you commented or noticed that parents at one point in their lives need to realize that their children are becoming adults and as adults are going to make their own decisions. They might not be the decisions and choices that their parents would make but, after all they are not their parents' decisions. Our children for better or worse eventually make their own choices.
The book of Joshua is the story of Joshua's choices. His life was different from a number of our heroes. Unlike Moses, or Isaac, Samson, or Samuel, his birth did not occur under auspicious circumstances. As a young man Joshua must have risen through the ranks of the tribe of Ephraim until, for some reason, he caught Moses' attention. Eventually, as a result of the report he delivered in this morning's Torah portion and one supposes, other characteristics he demonstrated, Moses chose him to be his successor.
The book of Joshua begins following the death of Moses and continues until his own death. Its relates how Joshua lead the people of Israel across the Jordan River into the land promised to our ancestors, takes possession, divides it among the tribes, and leads them to the point that they swear allegiance to the covenant. Joshua's story allegedly took place around 1180 B.C.E. but the book of Joshua probably didn't assume its final form for another four hundred years.
The book is based on the belief that the entire land was conquered. This might not have been the case. According to the book a complete acquisition of the land would have resulted in the total annihilation of its local inhabitants. This clearly did not occur and this morning's haftarah provides us with an indication that some people, in violation of the commands in Deuteronomy, were spared. In addition archeological investigations of the places mentioned where Joshua was supposed to have conquered do not reveal any systematic pattern of destruction. This leads many to believe that the military and destructive aspects of this story are literary and theological constructions instead of actual ones.
Learning this made me feel better but it also challenged my understanding of the text. Joshua did not always follow the instructions of Moses or if we wish to look at it this way, of God. (DT 7:2) but he did follow it most of the time. His life and his book are a testimony to the transforming power of Torah. His story brings the story of the Exodus and God's promise to its fulfillment. Joshua at great risk might have departed at times from the instructions he was given, but mostly he remained true to his mission and as such would have made Moses proud.
This week's Haftarah commentary was written by
Rabbi Charles Simon,
Executive Director of the FJMC and author of
"Building A Successful Volunteer Culture: Finding Meaning in Service in the Jewish"
Jewish Lights Publishing.
Translation of the Haftarah may be found here: http://www.jtsa.edu/PreBuilt/ParashahArchives/jpstext/
The FJMC weekly haftarah commentary is one of the few haftarah commentaries available on line. The USCJ through its Fuchsberg Center in Jerusalem has also been posting a weekly haftarah commentary for a number of years. We highly recommend it. If you are interested you can find a link on the left side of our weekly commentary and click through.
In 2003 the FJMC commissioned a Sefer Haftarah, a scroll consisting of all the Haftarot which follows the Haftarah order that appears in the USCJ and Rabbinical Assembly Torah translation and commentary Etz Hayim. The FJMC Sefer Haftarah visits a different synagogue in North America every week.This scroll contains vowels and cantillation and allows the haftarah reader to experience the Haftarah in a more personal way. FJMC also produces individual personalized Haftarot for those who wish to recognize a special occasion. Scrolls of Haftarot have been in use since the early middle ages.