This week’s parasha, of course, starts with בני ישראל on the border of the Land, and about to send in a reconnaissance mission:
Who is הושע בן נון? And what does ויקרא משה להושע בן נון יהושע mean? Does it really mean that Moshe gave Joshua his new name now? But we’ve seen Joshua multiple times before, always as יהושע:
So many commentators say that this pasuk should read, “Moshe had called הושע, יהושע”:
But that has a few problems. The first is grammatical: the past perfect tense (“had called”), in Biblical Hebrew, should be ומשה קרא להושע בן נון יהושע. Secondly, why mention it here? What do the מרגלים have to do with Joshua’s political pseudonym? Other commentators say that the name change was now, and the older uses are anachronistic:
The Torah wasn’t written until the end of the 40 years in the wilderness, at which point הושע בן נון was known as יהושע. But why change his name now? One Targum says it was because of Joshua’s humility:
But that doesn’t make sense without the explanation of Rashi (from the gemara):
So Moshe thinks הושע needs some extra help to stand up to the others. But that makes no sense. The others weren’t planning to malign the land and frighten בני ישראל into returning to Egypt:
To help answer this, we have to look at one more pasuk, on the last day of Moshe’s life, when he proclaims his final נבואה, שירת האזינו:
It’s the only other mention of הושע בן נון. Who was הושע בן נון?
So Joshua has two roles, one as the grandson of the נשיא of his tribe, and one as the protege of Moshe. As Rashbam says, “יהושע” is the name he was given as the protege of Moshe, and the one he used in his professional carerr. So what happened on that last day, when Moshe said האזינו?
This is based on a midrash:
The Netziv proposes that calling him הושע here indicates that he was still the student of Moshe, that it was a sign of Joshua’s humility, but I would propose the opposite, that הושע is his birth name, and indicates his independent significance. He is acting as his own נביא here, for a moment. But his humility is such that he immediately goes back to being משרת משה:
So back to our Rashi: what does התפלל עליו י־ה יושיעך מעצת מרגלים mean if אותה שעה כשרים היו? And worse, Rashi further explains:
So the spies were כשרים but they went בעצה רעה. What?
Many have noted that the story of the spies here is very different from the story as presented in דברים:
Rashi explains that שלח לך was not a command, but permission: the people want to send spies, so I will allow you to send them:
But Rav Medan is bothered by that; שלח לך certainly sounds like a command. He says there were two different missions here that got intertwined. Our parasha is the Divine command of שלח לך, and the mission is לתור את הארץ, literally “to tour the land”. It’s not a military mission at all, and it is to be done by the נשיאים, openly traveling through the land. 40 years later there will be a similar assignment:
These נשיאים were the representatives of the people in possessing the Land:
And Joshua will appoint similar representatives:
They needed to walk the breadth and length of the Land to actualize their חזקה in it, similar to Avraham: (בראשית יג:יז) קום התהלך בארץ לארכה ולרחבה; כי לך אתננה.
That was the Divine mission. The people, however, wanted to know how they would conquer the land and asked for spies: ויחפרו לנו את הארץ, and וירגלו אתה.
So when the “spies” went, אותה שעה כשרים היו. But they went בעצה רעה, literally with bad advice:
יהושוע is sent on this mission as the heir to the throne of his tribe, as הושע בן נון, grandson of the נשיא. Moshe realizes that עצת מרגלים, the secondary mission of spying, is probably a mistake and so either changes הושע's name or reminds him that he is יהושוע, משרת משה. Moshe needs him to be his (Moshe’s) representative, to keep the primary mission together and keep the others focused.
Joshua fails, because he has learned (among everything else) ענוה from Moshe. He doesn’t speak up, as we see after they return:
Calev stands up to the others; Joshua is silent. He doesn’t speak until after Moshe and Aharon give up:
And ה׳ acknowledges this and rewards Calev specifically:
Joshua doesn’t die (he was not part of the עדה רעה) but he is not singled out.
So the failure of the spies and of all כלל ישראל, and the death of the generation becomes another example of the failure of leadership that is the tragedy of ספר במדבר.