“And they responded to Yehoshua stating, ‘We will do all you have commanded us and will go wherever you send us.'” The response of the three tribes credited their responsibility in war to Yehoshua. In truth it was their own initiative to lead the war and, as earlier indicated by Yehoshua himself, the offer had been enforced by Moshe Rabbeinu. Yet we find the tribes attributing everything to Yehoshua and expressing their readiness to follow his every word.
It appears that they felt it necessary to reaffirm their commitment to Yehoshua, thus fortifying him in his leadership role. They realized that the conquest of Canaan would be the accomplishment of Yehoshua, rather than their own accomplishment. Yehoshua was to direct the wars, and they were merely to serve as loyal subjects. This attitude was based on a special blessing conveyed upon Efraim by our Patriarch Yaakov. In response to Yosef’s concern over the destiny of his children, Yaakov blessed Yosef’s younger son Efraim with the following words, “And his (Efraim’s) child shall fill the nations” (Breishis 48:19). Rashi quotes our Chazal who interpret this prophetic message to refer to the miracles of Yehoshua’s wars which will fill the entire world. The loyal devotion of the tribes reassured Yehoshua that it would be his direction and command that would produce these miracles rather than their military expertise. The importance of this perspective will be discussed in the following verse.
“As we listened to everything Moshe said, so will we listen to you, given that Hashem will be with you as He was with Moshe.” The tribes seem to have established a condition here. They agreed to follow everything Yehoshua said, but only if Hashem would be with Yehoshua. Certainly it was not their position to reprimand their leader and inspire him to follow the path of Hashem. If so, what did they seek to accomplish with their condition?
We can understand their concern in light of the comment of the Or Hachaim in Parshas Matos. When studying the exact wording of the tribes’ agreement we discover that they were prepared to accept a heavy responsibility. They said, “And we, armed to fight, will swiftly lead the Jewish people in battle until we bring them safely to their place.” (Bamidbar 32:51) This shows that they were prepared to personally secure the safe return of the Jewish people. However, when repeating the agreement, Moshe Rabbeinu altered it and said, “And you shall cross the Jordan prepared to fightbefore Hashem until He drives out His enemy from before you.” (ibid 21)The emphasis here is on fighting before Hashem, and that Hashem, rather than the tribes, would drive out the enemy.
Or Hachaim explains that Moshe educated the tribes here on the nature of these wars. If they will fight them before Hashem, realizing that it is He who fights wars, then their efforts will be minimal. Their obligation will be nothing more than situating themselves in a lead position. However, if they view themselves as actually fighting the war, major efforts will be required on their part to secure a victory.
We now return to our discussion and discover the hidden concern expressed here. Earlier, after Yehoshua repeated the tribes’ responsibility he made one slight addition, “And you shall assist them.” (1:14) This suggested that the tribes would actually be involved in leading a hand-to-hand combat to assist the Jewish people. This inference gravely concerned the tribes because it suggested a serious deviation from Moshe’s plan. They therefore reinstated their commitment as one subject to Hashem’s being with them as He was with Moshe. With this they meant that Hashem would fight their wars rather than they themselves. This way their role would be limited to one of encouragement and demonstrative faith, rather than serious involvement and heavy combat.
“Anyone who rebels against you and does not listen to your command shall perish; only strengthen and fortify yourself.” Here again we discover the tribes asserting themselves in an unusual manner. At this particular juncture they found it necessary to review with Yehoshua the rules of a sovereign. Although in truth a rebel is punished by death, why mention this law at this specific moment?
It seems that this statement served as the perfect conclusion to their dramatic presentation. They fully recognized that the merit of the Divine Presence amongst them was due to the greatness of Yehoshua. Being a perfect reflection of Moshe Rabbeinu’s Heavenly radiance, Yehoshua personified the perfect qualities of a Jewish leader: total subservience to Hashem. The tribes realized that as long as the Jewish people would respect Yehoshua’s greatness, they would merit that the Divine Presence would assist them in their conquest of the land. However, if they would challenge Yehoshua’s authority and cease to aspire to his greatness, they would forfeit everything. Under these adverse conditions the tribes would be forced to personally fight the wars; a condition they never accepted. They therefore clarified to Yehoshua from the outset that he must be prepared to enforce his authority in the most severe measures. Only this would secure the safety of his people and guarantee Hashem’s involvement throughout their extended conquest of the land.
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