“And the Canaanite and all the inhabitants of the land will hear and they will surround us and remove our name from the land, and what will You do for Your great name?”
Yehoshua continues his desperate plea on behalf of the Jewish people and projects their total annihilation. His concern is so serious that he concludes with the piercing cry of “for Heaven’s sake!” In essence Yehoshua pleads with Hashem that the destruction of the Jewish nation will bring untold disgrace to Hashem’s name. These words reinforce our previous reflection that a major concern was in the air. Although Hashem never expressed any intent of destroying His people, Yehoshua responded to this situation with the exact words of his teacher Moshe Rabbeinu in the most grave of circumstances, “Do this for Your sake, Hashem!”
In order to put things in perspective, it is important to review the words of our Sages regarding the Jewish nation’s entry to Eretz Yisroel. The Torah states in Parshas Maasei, “For you are passing through the Jordan into Eretz Canaan. And you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land…” Rashi quotes the Sages’ interpretation of this passage that Hashem made a condition with the Jewish people. He warned them that the splitting of the Jordan, allowing their entry to the land, was interdependent upon their willingness to destroy the Canaanite inhabitants. It follows logically that if the Jewish nation would end their efforts towards this cause, they would forfeit their right to exist in Eretz Yisroel.
We now begin to sense the severity of the situation. Yehoshua understood that the Jewish people erred somehow and presently did not merit Hashem’s miraculous assistance. He knew that once this idea settled in, there would be no recourse. He couldn’t find any reassuring words to combat the forsaken and hopeless feeling of the people. After all, if this was Hashem’s initial response to their trivial error and misconception, what would the future have in store for them?! Realizing this, Yehoshua envisioned the rest of the process, the battle of conquest would be suspended and the Jewish nation would forfeit their merit of existence in the land. “And then” reasoned Yehoshua with Hashem, “What will come of Your great name!”
However, one question remains unanswered – why get so dramatic? Why didn’t Yehoshua merely ask Hashem to strengthen the Jewish people instead of frantically begging for His sake? In addition why didn’t Yehoshua ask for the Jewish people’s sake – didn’t they have any merit of their own?
The answer to this seems to be that Yehoshua recognized this problem as a serious failing of the Jewish people. Their initial lack of total trust in Hashem was their undoing, and the inability to get beyond this fear in the face of peril was, once again, their own shortcoming. Yehoshua did not deem it appropriate to ask Hashem to clean up their mess. It was their responsibility to mend their ways and not His. Likewise, Yehoshua could not approach Hashem to rectify this situation on the basis of their merit – rectification was their own responsibility. However, Yehoshua did approach Hashem to involve Himself for His sake. As Rashi comments here, Hashem’s name is intimately intertwined with the Jewish people and any serious threat to their existence suggests terrible disgrace to Hashem’s honor. And as we will soon see, Hashem accepted this argument and consented to assist in rectifying the situation.
Yet, as we will learn in the upcoming section, Hashem did not conduct the conquest of Et in the same miraculous way He did with the other conquests. The battle of Et was, for the most part, a subtle miracle cloaked through brilliant military strategy. Hashem promised to assist the people but without the previous open miracles. It was their responsibility to regain their confidence in Hashem and, by remaining behind the scenes, Hashem forced the Jewish people to return to their previous level. Yet a significant detail was soon to be revealed which would give the Jewish people a realistic understanding of their own situation.
“And Hashem said to Yehoshua, ‘Rise to yourself, why are you falling on your face? The Jewish people have sinned…'”
Our Sages offer numerous interpretations to this difficult introductory statement of Hashem. But before studying them, let us appreciate the reflection of the Talmud Yerushalmi in Mesichta Taanis. Our Sages take note of the peculiar spelling of the word “rise” which is written without its usual “Shuruk” vowel. They explain that on this basis the word can also be interpreted in past tense (“it has stood”), referring to the fact that Yehoshua’s argument stood and bore fruit. In truth Hashem would not have involved Himself in this situation, but due to Yehoshua’s plea for the sake of Heaven, Hashem consented and became involved. From this we see that Yehoshua was absolutely correct in his assessment of the situation, and, as a matter of principle, Hashem would not have involved Himself in this situation without the added dimension of His own disgrace.
These words teach us an important lesson in prayer and in our expectation of Hashem’s response to things. Generally speaking, it is our responsibility to rectify our errors. We can certainly turn to Hashem for assistance, but we can’t expect Him to do the work for us. We made the mess and we must clean it up. If, however, we sincerely plead to Hashem for the sake of His honor, then we are guaranteed results. This then is the revealed and concealed message of our passage. Why do you fall on your face in supplication? “Rise” because your plea “stood” because you asked solely for the sake of Hashem’s honor.
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