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Divrei Torah on the weekly portions

Devarim: VaYeilech

A Shining Light

“God said to Moshe: The time is coming for you to die. Summon Joshua and let him stand in the Tent of Meeting where I shall instruct him …” (Devarim 31:14).

The Gemara (Bava Batra 75a) states that Moshe's face gleamed like the sun, while Joshua's shone like the moon. This is derived from the verses in Shemot (34:29) “… the skin of Moshe’s face was shining when God had spoken to him” and in BeMidbar (27:20) “Invest Joshua with some of your [Moshe’s] radiance so that the entire Israelite community will obey him”.

When Joshua assumed the leadership of Israel following the passing of Moshe, the elders of the generation said: “The face of Moshe was like the sun, the face of Joshua is like the moon; woe to this disgrace, woe to this shame!”

Ostensibly, the elders were lamenting how the nation’s leadership had been diminished spiritually with the passing of Moshe. However, if this interpretation is correct, it is difficult to understand why the elders would use the terms “disgrace” and “shame” when referring to Joshua’s leadership? He was, after all, a prophet who was imbued with Godly wisdom!

The Chafetz Chaim explained this with a parable about a man who was preparing to embark on a long journey to a land where precious gems were mined. He searched for someone in his city to accompany him overseas, but could find only one volunteer. The two set out on their journey, and returned some years later carrying the fruits of their voyage. The primary voyager came laden with sacks of gems, while his companion brought with him considerable, though less, wealth. Upon seeing this, those who had refused the man’s offer to journey with him became filled with envy toward the one who had accompanied him.

Indeed Joshua’s face did not shine like Moshe’s, but it did, nevertheless, shine like the moon [whose light is a reflection of the sun]. The elders looked at Joshua and expressed their dismay: “We have known Joshua since his youth - he was just like us! However, in the years that have passed since then, he has not left Moshe’s tent. Look how his face shines - our faces could be shining too, had we striven as he did. Woe to our disgrace, woe to our shame!”

Furthermore, according to Iyun Yaakov, the disgrace and shame refers to the entire generation because, if their merits had been greater, then their leader Joshua would have reached the level of Moshe!

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