Divrei Torah on the weekly portions
The Missing Letter Yud
“Moshe came and spoke all the words of this song to the people, along with Hoshea the son of Nun” (Devarim 32:44).
Since Moshe had changed Joshua’s name from Hoshea to Yehoshua many years earlier (BeMidbar 13:16) why, when Joshua is about to take over the reins of leadership in our Sidra, is he now called Hoshea?
Rashi elucidates that Joshua’s name from birth was Hoshea and, when he was first appointed as a prince of the tribe of Efraim and sent into the land of Israel as one of the 12 spies, his name was changed to Yehoshua. In order to show that he humbled himself upon becoming the leader of Israel the Torah stresses his original pre-leadership name.
The commentator Livyat Chein offers another interesting explanation why he was now called Hoshea. The Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 47:1) tells us that when God altered Sarai’s name to Sarah (Bereishit 17:15), the letter Yud that was removed complained to God: “because I’m the smallest letter, I was taken out of the righteous Sarah”. God told the Yud that he would be used once more in the name of a righteous person, not at the end of the name but at the beginning (i.e. a promotion!). [Clearly there is deep significance to this Midrash, but for another time.]
The Gemara (Berachot 13a) analyses the difference between the implication of the words Sarai and Sarah. Sarai means “my Princess”, i.e. Princess of the nation where she lived, whereas Sarah means “Princess”, implying Princess of the whole world.
God wished to crown her with this title. It is logical to assume that this was as long as she was alive, but not after she died. We find a precedent for this when the verse does not say KING David, only David, when he died (Melachim I 2:10), because then there are no titles.
According to this, the Yud was only removed from her name for 38 years, from the age of 89 when her name was altered (Bereishit 17) until her death at the age of 127 (Bereishit 23:1).
When Moshe added this Yud to Yehoshua’s name, it was only for 38 years. He did this in the second year of their sojourn in the desert when they sent the spies to the land of Israel (BeMidbar 10:11, 13:3&16 and Gemara Sotah 34b). Now in the fortieth year, 38 years later, the complaint of the Yud that he was redundant had been rectified, and there was now no need to specifically call him Yehoshua!
It is noteworthy that later in the Torah and throughout the book of Joshua, Joshua is still called by the name Yehoshua. Presumably Livyat Chein would explain that he was still known as Yehoshua because that name had stuck. Nevertheless, the Torah wanted to make the point because “God’s deeds are perfect” (Devarim 32:4).