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ONE LETTER IN HISTORY

by Rabbi Norman Schloss    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

At the beginning of this week's portion, the Torah relates to us the names of the twelve men who were sent to spy out the land of Israel in preparation for the Jewish people's conquest.

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At the beginning of this week's portion, the Torah relates to us the names of the twelve men who were sent to spy out the land of Israel in preparation for the Jewish people's conquest. Commenting on the third verse of the portion, Rashi, the fundamental Torah commentator, notes that all twelve of them were righteous and upright men. Then, after listing their names, the Torah informs us that Moses changes the name of his trusted and beloved student Hoshea to "Yehoshua - Joshua", whereupon Rashi comments that this was done to protect him from the adverse advice and influence of the other spies. The Da'as Z'keinim, a classic commentary on the Torah, offers the following four reasons in explanation of the name change:

1) Yehoshua was destined to inherit the land that was to go to the ten wicked spies. Therefore, the Hebrew letter yud, which has the numerical value of the number ten, was added to the beginning of his name. 2) Centuries earlier, when Hashem changed Sarai's name to "Sarah" by removing the letter yud from her name, the yud cried out to Hashem. In response, Hashem placated the yud by attaching it to Hoshea. 3) The yud from "Sarai" was split into two parts - half going to the letter hei (whose numerical value is five) to transform "Abram" into "Abraham" and half going to the letter hei to transform "Sarai" into "Sarah". 4) The name "Yehoshua" means "salvation". As such, Moses was praying for Hoshea to have a divinely-sent "yehoshua - salvation" from the spies' bad influence.

Rabbi David Orlofsky, a popular speaker on Torah topics in Israel, questions this passage from the Da'as Z'keinim: Firstly, why did Moses only pray for Yehoshua and not the other spies? If the other spies were equally as suspect, shouldn't Moses have prayed for them as well? Furthermore, what does it mean that the letter yud cried out to Hashem and was placated by being given to Yehoshua? Finally, for what purpose does the commentary reference the third reason - about the letter yud being divided up, with half going to Abraham and half to Sarah - with regard to this week's Torah portion? That comment does not seem to have any relevance to the name change of Yehoshua and instead should have been cited in Genesis when the names were changed.

To answer these questions, explains Rabbi Orlofsky, we must first go back to last week's portion where we encounter the strange case of Eldad and Medad (Numbers 11:26-29). They appeared in the camp prophesying that Moses would die and Yehoshua would bring the Jewish people into the land of Israel. Yehoshua's reaction is that Moses should incarcerate them. Being the trusted servant and student of Moses, Yehoshua could not bear to hear the prophecy that his teacher was going to die and not lead the Jewish people into the land of Israel. Yehoshua was so close to Moses, his teacher, that Moses was afraid that Yehoshua would be unable to give a clear and impartial report on the Holy Land. After all, a positive account from Yehoshua about the land of Israel would directly lead to the death of Moses. That is why Moses specifically prayed on behalf of Yehoshua that he should give an honest and positive report.

Now we understand why Moses prayed for Yehoshua and changed his name. But why the letter yud? By learning that the yud was split between Abraham and Sarah, we discover a very important lesson. In becoming the progenitors of the Jewish people, there were character traits of Abraham that Sarah needed and there were character traits of Sarah that Abraham needed. The yud was split so that their different attributes could be united. Abraham needed the foresight of Sarah - he was overcome by his own feelings when Hagar and Yishmael were sent away, while only Sarah could objectively asses the whole picture, see the consequences, and go through with the difficult yet necessary task. This is the asset that Sarah brought to Abraham, and this same attribute was what Moses gave to Yehoshua. Yehoshua needed the help of the yud - signifying Abraham, Sarah, and Hashem - to help him be true to his mission. The rest, as they say, is history.

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Rabbi Norman Schloss writes from Atlanta.

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