Avraham ben Yaakov



It was through the power of the Ark of the Covenant that the River Jordan had split to enable the Children of Israel to walk into their home country on dry land. Immediately after their entry into the Land, it was necessary to inscribe the mark of the Covenant on the very flesh of all the males as laid down in the Torah (Genesis 17:1-14, Leviticus 12:3) as a sign that observance of the Covenant is the absolute condition for possession of the Land.

The circumcision was urgent as they had entered the Land on 10 Nissan and four days later everyone would have to offer and eat of the Pesach lamb, which was only permitted to the circumcised since partaking of the Paschal lamb is an intrinsic part of the Covenant. Our rabbis teach that immediately following their entry into the Land, during those four days before Pesach the people also went through purification from defilement from the dead using the ashes of the Red Heiffer so as to be able to bring the Pesach sacrifice in a state of complete purity.

At the time of the Exodus from Egypt all the Israelite males had been circumcised as part of their "conversion" to the faith of Israel . But according to the simple meaning of our text (PSHAT), the new generation that had been born during the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness had not been circumcised. The rabbis explain that since the people were journeying in the wilderness by the word of God and might at any time be called upon to break camp and travel, it was impossible to circumcise the baby boys. Furthermore, they teach that the north wind, which has curative powers, did not blow throughout the forty years in the wilderness so as not to disperse the Cloud that led the people (see RaDaK on Joshua 5:2). [That beneficial north wind is the same wind of divine power that would blow through the strings of King David's harp and awaken him at midnight, Berachos 3b.]

On the other hand, Tanna deVei Eliahu (the Midrash of Elijah the prophet) states that it is not possible that the people who received the Torah at Sinai could have neglected the mitzvah of circumcision in the wilderness. Rather, they had only performed the first part of it - the actual MILAH, cutting off the foreskin - but had failed to perform the second part, PERIYAH, the peeling back of the membrane, which is an intrinsic part of the mitzvah ("if one cuts off the foreskin but does not perform PERIYAH, it is as if he has not circumcised"). This was why God told Joshua to circumcise them "a second time" (v. 2) - i.e. to complete the mitzvah.

The circumcision was performed in the location of the Israelites' first encampment in their land, which to mark this mass demonstration of recommitment to the Covenant was named GILGAL for the reason explained in our text (v. 9): "I have ROLLED OFF (GALosi) the shame of Egypt from upon you" -- for the Egyptian astrologers saw blood on the Israelites and thought it was a sign they would be defeated, not knowing that it was the blood of the circumcision, through which they would be victorious (Rashi). GILGAL is also related to the Hebrew word GILGUL which has the connotation of recycling - reincarnation. Each and every generation must rededicate itself to the Covenant because history goes in cycles.

Eating of the "produce of the land" from the day after Pesach (v 11) brought the Children of Israel to a new mode of being. For 40 years in the Wilderness their food had been the miraculous, spiritual Manna. It was because they were now going to be living in a real, actual country making a living using natural methods, agriculture etc. that they first had to rededicate themselves to the Covenant, through which we cut the flesh to indicate that our task is to bring this material world under the law of God. The Covenant enables the material world (MALCHUT) to receive spiritual blessing, and thus ARI (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, outstanding 16 th century Kabbalist) points out that in our verse (v. 11) the Hebrew word for produce, EEBUR, is made up of BOR (a "pit", signifying the inherently "empty" receiving Sefira of Malchut) together with the letter AYIN (=70), signifying the flow of all the seven Sefirot of Building, each of them containing all 10 Sefirot - 7 x 10 - into Malchut.

The 16 th of Nissan, when they started to eat the produce of the Land, is the day of the Omer offering in the Temple : it is only after this offering that it is permitted to eat from the new harvest (Leviticus 23:14).


Now that the people were purified, God's Angel - a being so fearsome that even Joshua was uncertain if he was for us or against - appeared to protect the people. "NOW I have come" (v. 14) - in the time of Joshua, but not before! For Moses had insisted that God Himself lead the people into the Land and not through a mere angel (Exodus 33:15). But now that Moses had departed, only a trace or residue of the exalted providence of his time remained in the form of this angel - Michael , Israel 's protective angel (see Likutey Moharan II, 5). The angel impresses on Joshua that the Land of Israel is not like any other: "Take off your shoe from your foot, for the place upon which you are standing is holy". Similarly, the priests went barefoot in the Temple . (Zohar Chadash 59a indicates that the removal of the shoe alludes to Joshua's having to separate from his wife in order to be ready to receive prophecy at any time just as Moses had been.)



"And Jericho was closed up" (Ch 6 v 2). The Hebrew word for "closed up" is doubled, indicating that they wouldn't let anyone in or anyone out. Targum Yonasan says they had gates of iron with bars of bronze. ARI explains that Jericho (YEREICHO) alludes to the moon (YAREIACH) which signifies MALCHUS, the receiver - this world, which must receive the spiritual flow from above. But under the Canaanites, Jericho was completely closed up - i.e. surrounded by walls and barriers - KELIPAH, the evil husk - preventing the divine flow from entering and manifesting in this world.

Now that the Children of Israel were in the Land, they could not expect that all their affairs would be run miraculously by God as in the wilderness without their having to take any action here on earth. They had to act in some way in the material world in order to conquer Jericho (Radak). While their daily encirclement of the city can be seen as an exercise to demoralize the enemy, its significance goes far deeper. Our rabbis teach that the seven days of encirclement started on a Sunday, culminating with seven circuits on the Shabbat. This was not coincidental: the entire exercise came to prove that Israel's conquest and possession of the Land depend upon observance of Shabbat - the weekly Shabbat, the seven year Sabbatical cycle of six years of agricultural work and then rest -- Shemittah - in the seventh year, and then the seven cycles of seven years culminating in the 50 th "Jubilee" year, called after the YOVEL - the ram's horn of freedom sounded in that year.

Sounding the Shofar - signifying man's wordless cry to God from the very depths of the heart - was an integral part of the ritual that led to the capture of Jericho . The entire ritual was built around sevens. It came to undermine the idolatrous Canaanites, whose religions were built around the worship of the 7 planets. The Israelite processions must have been a most awesome spectacle, with the men of the tribes of Reuven and Gad leading, followed by the Shofar-blasting priests and the Ark, followed by Dan at the rear gathering up any stragglers (Rashi on v. 9). The entire camp of Israel was involved in this Shabbos demonstration!

The Talmud Yerushalmi in Shabbos explains why Joshua declared Jericho and all its plunder CHEREM -- completely dedicated to God. This was because the city fell on Shabbos and it is forbidden to benefit from labor performed on Shabbos. The first conquest in the Land of Israel came about not through the agency of man but essentially through God's miracle. Nobody was allowed to have material benefit from God's miracle as this would detract from His glory. Joshua gave the city the status of IR HANIDACHAS - an idolatrous city, all of whose property must be destroyed (Deut. 13:3-19).

The ethics of the commandment to destroy the Canaanites completely will be addressed in a future installment. Suffice it to say here that had they been willing to accept the One God they could have saved themselves, as Rahav did. The rabbis taught that Joshua himself took Rahav as his wife and their descendants included prophets and priests.

Joshua's grim oath (v 26) that anyone who tried to rebuild Jericho would pay with the lives of all his sons was actually fulfilled many generations later in the time of King Achav, as we will learn in a few months time when we reach the Book of Kings I ch 16. The TaNaCh is first and foremost a moral teaching on a grand scale. God is very patient with His creatures but He always fulfils His word in the end.

* * * Joshua 3:5-7, 5:2-6:1 and 6:27 are read as the Haftara on the First Day of Pesach * * *



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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