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Divrei Torah on the weekly portions

BeMidbar: Shelach

Camouflage

“And Moshe called Hoshea, the son of Nun, Yehoshua” (BeMidbar 13:16) .

The Gemara explains that by adding the Hebrew letter Yud to the beginning of Hoshea’s name Moshe prayed that God (YH) would save (shua) Yehoshua from any conspiracy by the other spies (Sotah 34b).

Rabbi Yaakov Yosef from Vilna inquires why Moshe only prayed for Yehoshua to be saved and not the rest of the spies? Surely if Moshe would have suspected that these twelve Israelite leaders might falter he would have prayed for all of them?

It must therefore be the case that Moshe wasn’t afraid that the other spies would stumble! He was only worried about Yehoshua. But why?

Rabbi Yaakov Yosef elaborates that there are two types of sin: “blatant sins” whereby one knows that one is doing something wrong but finds it difficult to desist, and “camouflaged sins” where the Yetzer Hara (Evil Inclination) disguises a sin as a Mitzvah! At least with the first type of sin, there is hope that at some point he will realise the error of his ways. However, the latter category is much more dangerous because what hope is there of repentance while the transgressor believes he is doing the right thing?

Applying this reasoning, we can understand why Moshe was only concerned about Yehoshua faltering. Moshe knew that the spies might selfishly contemplate bringing a bad report about the land because their own leadership roles would be redundant once they entered the land. However, since the spies were all great and righteous men (BeMidbar Rabbah 15:5) Moshe surmised that they would take care not to succumb to such a “blatant sin” by disparaging the land of Israel.

By contrast, Yehoshua was susceptible to a “camouflaged sin”, based on an incident recorded in last week’s Sedra. Eldad and Meidad were caught prophesying (“MiTNaBEiYM”) in the camp (BeMidbar 11:27): “Moshe Tanuach Nafsho Began Elokim; Yehoshua Machnis” = “Moshe’s soul will rest in God’s Garden (of Eden); Yehoshua will be the (new) leader”, according to Ba’al HaTurim. Then Yehoshua spoke up and told Moshe to imprison them (Rashi on BeMidbar 11:28). He ferociously defended Moshe’s leadership.

Hence, Moshe was afraid that Yehoshua might bring back a bad report about the land of Israel in order to prolong their time in the desert, since the prophecy was true that Moshe would not lead the Israelites into the land! What hope was there that Hoshea would avoid this camouflaged sin which he might actually regard as a Mitzvah? That is why Moshe added the Hebrew letter Yud to Hoshea’s name, praying that God would save Yehoshua from sinning.

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