The time arrived for the retribution against the Midianites. G-d earlier
commanded a response (Bamidbar/Numbers 25:17) for the Midianite culpability
for the Jewish immorality and idolatry that resulted in the death of 24,000
of the Children of Israel. "G-d spoke to Moses saying, 'Take vengeance for
the Children of Israel against the Midianites; afterward you will be
gathered unto your people [i.e. you will die].'" (31:1-2)
Medrash Raba (22:5) contrasts this episode to the end of the life of
Yehoshua (Joshua). G-d promised him, "As I was with Moshe so will I be with
you." (Yehoshua 1:5) Yehoshua was to have lived for 120 years as Moshe did.
But he died ten years prematurely, for when Moshe was told to annihilate
the Midianites, he fulfilled the charge with alacrity, even though its
completion meant his demise. But Yehoshua, as he went to war with the 31
kings of the Land of Canaan, understood G-d's promise to mean that just as
Moshe died after the completion of his mission, so too He would die with
the completion of his own mission, so he drew out the process of
conquering the Promised Land. G-d responded, "This is what you have done?
I will shorten your life ten years."
Yehoshua's decision was not motivated by self preservation. Moshe himself
warned the Jewish Nation, "For I know that after my death you will surely
act corruptly and you will stray from the path that I have commanded you
and evil will befall you at the end of days." (Devarim/Deuteronomy 31:29)
But Rashi notes on that verse that as long as Yehoshua - Moshe's closest
disciple - was alive, to the Jewish People it was as if Moshe was still
alive and they did not stray: "And Israel served G-d all the days of
Yehoshua." (Yehoshua 24:31) Thus, Yehoshua strove to lengthen his life, not
for mundane self gratification, but to lengthen the time that the Jewish
People would remain faithful to G-d's word. Why should he be punished for
such a noble, generous act?
Chidushei HaLev (1) explains that Yehoshua was bound by the maxim that the
zealous are swift to fulfill mitzvos (Divine commands). Notwithstanding the
benefit to the Jewish nation to postpone the conclusion of the conquest of
the Holy Land, Yehoshua was obligated to discharge his obligation as
swiftly as possible. It was not his place to set aside G-d's command for
his own rationale, even if that rationale was for the spiritual survival
of the Jewish People. G-d is in absolute control of the destiny of the
Jewish People; He is fully able to assist them spiritually if He so
desires, and if G-d does not so desire then no amount of human
intervention can make a difference. As Shlomo HaMelech (King Solomon)
teaches, "Many designs are in a man's heart, but the counsel of G-d, only
it will prevail." (Mishlei/Proverbs 19:21) And so it was with Yehoshua.
For all his efforts to positively manipulate the fortune of his people, he
caused the reverse: his untimely death and early deprivation of his
leadership for the Jewish Nation.
The G-d conscious Jew faces many great challenges as he strives to connect
with the Divine and grow spiritually. The path to spiritual success - like
the journey to achieve all worthwhile goals - is fraught with trials. In
the physical realm, the failure of Plan A to achieve the goal mandates the
utilization of Plan B, C, or D. But the spiritual realm works within a
different paradigm. The Torah is G-d's own Plan A and is guaranteed to
succeed. For who better than the Master of the Universe Himself to create
THE plan for forging a relationship with Him? Further, "success" does not
come from the accomplishment of any particular act, but from the continued
striving to succeed, even when tangible success is elusive. Our charge is
not to shape our destiny; our charge is to respond appropriately to the
challenges our destiny presents us.
Have a Good Shabbos!
(1) the ethical discourses of Rabbi Alter Henach Leibowitz, Rosh
Yeshiva/Dean of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim of Kew Gardens Hills, New York.