Haftarah:Simchat Torah: Courage
Joshua, Chapter 1: Imagine Moshe standing on the mountain, viewing the Land of Israel, so close, and yet he will not enter. After forty years of leading his nation from Egypt, always dreaming of building the country
destined for Israel, Moshe is standing at the, for him, uncrossable border. He always succeeded in praying for his people, but he cannot pray for himself. He can see his dream and, just, almost touch it. But it will never come to be. He made a serious mistake when he hit the rock to which he should have spoken. One quick moment of anger, and he forfeit his life-long dream. A leader cannot afford to make such a mistake. The consequences were devastating to him.
Imagine again, Joshua, the freshly appointed leader of the Jews. He had faithfully served his master, Moses, for those forty years. He knew his teacher better than could anyone else. He had learned at his master’s feet. He had listened to Moses for forty years teach everything about Israel. He, better than anyone, appreciated the intensity of Moses’ dream and frustration. Joshua, the new leader, understood the terrifying responsibilities that came with being the leader of the Jewish People. He had shared in all of Moses’ great moments and now, was leader only because his master had failed.
Imagine, once again, the people themselves, the nation led by Moses for forty years. He was their teacher, their guide, their king, their protector, and their advocate. Moses had been the voice of God for more than a generation. They could look up and see him on the mountain looking toward Israel. They too, had listened to him lovingly teach about Israel. He was the one who taught them what to do when they crossed. He instructed them how to settle the land and how to live once the land was theirs. What were they feeling as they watched Moses, high up on the mountain, never to return to them, bid farewell to his dream?
These do not seem to be auspicious scenes just before crossing the Jordan River into Canaan. Yet, these settings are the background of this, the opening chapter of Joshua. No wonder the theme of this reading is “Chazak v’ematz,” “Be strong and confident.” The people are vulnerable without Moses. They know that great things are in store for them, but they have difficulty imagining how they will happen without their leader. Joshua is in a weak position without his great master. He, too, understands that he will only succeed in leading the people with God’s miraculous help, but he cannot help but wonder if he would be able to live up to the standards of his teacher, or if he too would lose everything in a quick moment. Joshua, the leaders under him, and the people, all need to draw on great inner strength and to move forward with great courage.
“As I was with Moses so will I be with you.” (Verse 5) God gently guides Joshua through his moment of doubt and makes an awesome promise. God raised the bar for Joshua. The
new leader knew that he was the moon to Moses’ sun, and yet God promises to be with Joshua as He was with Moses. The opening paragraph (Verses 1-9) are God’s empowerment of Joshua.
Joshua rose to the occasion. He began to function as a leader. He understood that the people knew that he was not a replacement for Moses. He also understood that his approach to his new role would shape the response of the nation to the new leader. He assumed control. He began to prepare them for the future. He made them look ahead rather tan to the past. He challenges them to raise their sights to a great future; “In three days you will be crossing this Jordan to come to take possession of the land that God, your Lord, is giving you, to inherit it.” (Verse 11)
One group of people has an opportunity to respond before anyone else. The two and a half tribes that had chosen to live on the eastern side of the Jordan, just outside the heart of Canaan. The tribes who already had a home were the first to speak to Joshua. “As fully as we heeded Moses, so shall we heed you.” But then, a caveat: “provided that God, your Lord, is with you as He was with Moses.” Joshua could not help but smile. God’s promise to him before these tribes had an opportunity to speak, had preempted their concerns. Interestingly, these people concluded their declaration of fealty with the same words God had used when speaking to Joshua: “Only be strong and courageous.” The people understood that Joshua could, and would merit that God would be with him as God was with Moses. They also understood that in order to earn that status, Joshua would have to be strong and have courage. Joshua, upon hearing their words, and how they echoed God’s encouragement, understood that God was already with him as He was with Moses. God was preparing Joshua for the actual words that would be spoken by these tribes. God had already taken Joshua under His wing.
The High Holy Days are ending. We hopefully, have achieved wonderful things and heights that are difficult to capture during the year without the powerful assistance of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Hoshana Rabbah, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. We are standing at the crossing point into the year filled with its practical concerns and distractions. We wonder whether we will succeed in carrying our success over that boundary into the future. The Haftarah speaks to us as well: “Chazak v’ematz!” If we will draw on our inner strength and move forward with courage, then God will say, “Just as I was with you over this past month, I will be with you in the future.”