Action or Relaxation? by Shimon Cohen


Moshe sends the Meraglim to scout out Eretz Yisrael and report back about it. Just before Moshe sends them out, there is a quick name change. Hoshei’a, one of the Meraglim, has his name changed to Yehoshua. The Pasuk describes the incident, “VaYikra Moshe LeHoshei’a Bin Nun, Yehoshua,” “And Moshe called Hoshei’a the son of Nun, Yehoshua” (BeMidbar 13:16). Rashi comments that the reason Moshe added a Yud to his name was because Moshe was extremely wary of the Meraglim’s upcoming mission and knew that the spies’ report would likely lead to no good. To protect his prize disciple, Hoshei’a, from the evil that would be associated with the Meraglim, he added a Yud to his name. Moshe hoped that since with this change, the first two letters of Yehoshua’s name would now be Yud and Hey, which spell Hashem’s name, Yehoshua would be spiritually protected by Hashem from this evil. Targum Yonatan writes that Moshe added the letter Yud because he realized how humble Yehoshua was. This seems to contradict Rashi. How did Yehoshua’s humility put him at risk of the spies’ evil? Isn’t humility a desirable trait?

The Avnei Shoham offers an explanation based on a Tosefta in Mesechet Shabbat. There was a disagreement between the schools of Shamai and Hillel as to whether the bones left over from a Shabbat meal may be disposed of on Shabbat. According to Hillel, it is permitted to remove the bones and discard them normally. According to Shamai,  the bones are Muktzeh, and the only way to discard them is by removing the tablecloth. Rabi Zecharyah Ben Avkilot compromises on this argument, claiming that one is allowed to pick them up and throw them behind the couch. The Tosefta concludes by stating that the modesty of Rabi Zecharyah Ben Avkilot destroyed the Beit HaMikdash.

What is this cryptic final line of the Tosefta referring to? The answer is that there is a well-known incident recorded in Mesechet Gittin, where a renegade Jew denounced the Jews as rebels to a Roman emperor. He claimed he could prove it to the emperor. First, he asked the emperor for a calf of the type which the Jews used for sacrifices, and assured the emperor that the Jews would not agree to sacrifice his calf as an offering. The emperor gave the calf to the renegade Jew. On the way, the Jew deliberately blemished the calf, and the Jews could therefore not use it as a sacrifice. The Roman emperor heard about this without understanding that there was a blemish, attacked the Jews, and destroyed the Beit HaMikdash. The Gemara explains that the Chachamim did not immediately reject the Korban of the emperor. They thought that they should offer it, so as to not anger the emperor. However, Rabi Zecharyah Ben Avkilot objected to that. Then the Chachamim decided to kill the renegade Jew so that emperor would never find out, but Rabi Zecharyah objected to that as well. As a result, the Chachamim did nothing, and the chain of events that eventually destroyed the Beit HaMikdash thus began, all due to Rabi Zecharyah Ben Avkilot.

Modesty, humility, compromise, and peacemaking are all wonderful attributes, but in certain situations, other qualities are more appropriate. Although often it is better to take a compromising opinion, sometimes, it is necessary to take a stand and stick to that side.

Moshe had similar concerns about Yehoshua. He anticipated the reprehensible plans of the spies, so he worried for his safety, which is why he added the extra Yud for protection from Hashem. He realized that for the most part, being a great compromiser is an excellent attribute, but sometimes it is necessary to stand strong and not give in.

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