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After the death of Moses, G-d said to Joshua… Prepare to cross the Jordan now… The book of the Torah must not depart from your mouth. You shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may succeed wherever you go' (Josh. 1:1,8).
This is the blessing that Moses… bestowed on the Israelites before his death… The Torah that Moses commanded us is the heritage of the Congregation of Jacob (Deut. 33:1,4)
The scene of the Haftara - the opening chapter of the Book of Joshua - takes place just after the death of Moses, where the Israelites are about to cross the Jordan and defeat the first city of the main area of the Promised Land - Jericho. The east bank of the Jordan - the land allotted to the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh - had already been conquered during the days of Moses. As Moses died before his work was completed, it fell to his successor, Joshua, to organize the capture and settling of the Land of Canaan by the Israelite Nation.
Moses passed his authority to Moses with the words Chazak Ve-ematz (Deut. 31:7) translated variously as 'Be strong and of good courage' and 'Be strong and resolute'. And G-d's material for Joshua's opening address was threefold: to get the Israelites over the Jordan into the Promised Land, to tolerate no person to standing in his way, and to ensure that the Torah was accurately observed, as commanded to Moses.
Joshua then put the promise of the two and a half tribes settled in Trans-Jordan (Num. 32:17) to the test - that they would join the remaining tribes as front-line units in the conquest of the Holy Land. They collaborated enthusiastically, and added extreme retribution for those not co-operating: 'Whoever rebels against you, and disobeys you about anything you command shall be put to death', sealing it with Chazak Ve-ematz (1:18). Abarbanel explains that communal discipline in time of war demands much stricter penalties than those normally ordained by the Torah. However, it may be argued that the leaders of the two and a half tribes went further than they should have, as once they were on their own in Trans-Jordan after the conquest, their behavior seems to have somewhat counter-reacted: their building of a huge altar provoking the Israelites to the verge of civil war (Josh. 22:11,12)…
Moses final words to the Israelites before his death were blessings - to each tribe as appropriate to their potential and destiny within the Promised Land, and finally to the effect that Israel would live there in security: 'Happy are you O Israel! Who is like you? A people saved by G-d…' (Deut. 33:28-9).
Joshua's first words to the Israelites as the leader in his own right were to be practical: 'Prepare to cross the Jordan right now… to the land I am giving the Israelites' (1:2).
They are two very different situations. Yet common to both is the emphasis on the centrality of the Torah. Moses opened the blessings with the emphasis of the Torah being a heritage - for all time. And Joshua inserted the importance of 'meditating' on the Torah 'day and night' within his military instructions for the first steps in the conquest and settlement of Canaan.
That the common thread of Torah and Torah study runs through the events on and just after the death of Moses teaches the following. The Israelite nation and its role in the Creation do not depend primarily on its leaders or even the Tabernacle / Temple services, but on the Torah itself. As G-d told Moses: 'It will never be forgotten by its offspring' (31:21). Rashi brings the tradition that it means that the Israelites will never entirely forget the Torah. And Joshua activated it by inserting the centrality of Torah within his military orders.
It was this teaching that lay behind R. Yohanan ben Zakkai in 69 CE, when he pled with Vespasian to give him 'only Yavneh and its scholars'. He did not plead for the security of the Temple, or even Jerusalem. In that desperate situation, he understand that Jews individually were doomed, but collectively would only survive as 'kingdom of priests and a holy nation' if their traditions and teachings remained intact, even though their geographical location would be in a less holy place. In contrast the Sadducees, whose focus was more exclusively Temple-orientated, and who dominated Temple activities at the time, seem to have been finished with the destruction of the Second Temple, becoming either their allies or their terminal victims.
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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