This week, Moshe composes the song of Ha’azinu. It is a hauntingly prophetic piece replete with predictions and admonitions. It extols the virtues of Israel and forewarns them of a perilous future, if they disobey the Torah. He finishes the song, standing side by side with his disciple Yehoshua, as he prepares to transfer the mantle of leadership. Deuteronomy 32:34: “Moshe came and spoke all the words of this song in the ears of the people, he and Hoshea the son of Nun.”
Moshe equates his own stature with that of his student in order to show the world his high regard for the future leader to whom he had entrusted his people. Yet there is something strange. Yehoshua is not referred to by the regal name that Moshe had long since given him; rather he is called Hoshea. Before the hazardous mission of the spies forty years prior, Moshe added the Hebrew letter yud to Hoshea’s name. The yud represented the name of Hashem and served to protect Hoshea from the malicious intent of the slanderous spies. From that day on, Hoshea is always referred to as Yehoshua.
Why then at the height of Yehoshua’s career, on the day he is to take over the reign of power, does the Torah refer to him as Hoshea? Is the Torah surreptitiously diminishing his stature? Isn’t that exactly what the Torah would like to avoid?
On April 12, 1945, Vice-President Harry S. Truman was summoned to the White House. He was shown to the sitting room of the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. Gently, she told him that President Roosevelt was dead.
After a few moments of stunned silence, Mr. Truman composed himself and asked, “Is there anything I can do for you, Mrs. Roosevelt?”
The First Lady shook her head. “Is there anything we can do for you? For you are the one who is in trouble now.”
Perhaps Yehoshua’s crowning moment was also meant to be quite sobering. He was made to realize that the force behind his greatness would no longer be with him. The man who had crowned him with the glory of G-d’s name was joining the Creator, leaving Yehoshua alone and diminished. He was now just, Hoshea.
It was now up to Yehoshua to remember from whence his greatness came. Often we bask in the spotlight of greatness and expect to glow when the radiance is turned off.
Unfortunately, we are not made of phosphorous. The time comes when our light must shine from within our own selves. Sure enough from that moment on, Hoshea shines as Yehoshua. Given the task we will shine too.
In memory of Paula and George Herschman
Mordechai Kamenetzky – Yeshiva of South Shore
Text Copyright © 1997 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Dean of the Yeshiva of South Shore.