With thanks to God we can justly feel gratified that we have today reached the concluding chapters of the book of Joshua and can make a SIYIM (the happy "completion" of an entire book or tractate, which it is a mitzvah to mark with a festive meal and a LECHAYIM toast). This first SIYUM comes only two weeks after beginning our one-year cycle of study of NaCh, proving that regular daily study produces results. It does not matter if on some days we were less attentive than we might have liked or if we have forgotten some or even much of what we read. Everything is registered in our souls and in Heaven, and next time around we will catch what we missed this time. The overall gain from studying a whole work and seeing the wide picture far outweighs any loss that may result from not paying attention to every little detail.


Joshua's address to the nation and its elders, heads, judges and officers points to the lessons that were to be drawn from the conquest of the Land of Israel, one of the most decisive events in the people's history. Having witnessed how God had miraculously defeated the Canaanite nations on their own territory, the people of Israel were to internalize the message that their entire future in the Land depended on keeping God's Torah as a whole, and specifically upon not intermarrying or in any way becoming culturally integrated with the remaining Canaanites, whose pluralistic religions and cultures were the very antithesis of the monotheism of the Torah.

Joshua warns of the existential danger of Israelite intermarriage with the Canaanites, which would result in God's not driving the latter from the Land, leaving them as "a trap and a stumbling block, whips at your sides and thorns in your eyes until you are destroyed from upon the good land that the Lord your God has given you" (ch 23 v 13). This would occur if the Children of Israel made any compromise with the idolatry of the surrounding nations: just as God had showed His faithfulness in bestowing all His promised good upon the Israelites, so He would show His faith in wreaking vengeance upon them if they betrayed His Covenant.


Rashi (ch 24 v 26) notes that Joshua had the Ark of the Covenant brought to Shechem to add to the great solemnity of his final reproof to the nation before his death. Our Rabbis cite numerous examples of the outstanding Tzaddikim of the Bible (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Samuel, David) who only delivered their reproofs immediately prior to their deaths so as not to have to repeat them over and over, causing the recipients embarrassment and bad feelings (Sifri on Deut. 1:1; see Likutey Moharan II:8).

In his address, Joshua reviews the key events in the formation of the nation and its identity, tracing their roots back to their idolatrous forefathers who dwelled "on the other side of the river (Euphrates)", i.e. in Babylon . The opening words of this passage (vv. 2-4) will be familiar to many since our sages quoted them at the beginning of the Seder night Haggadah, when every Israelite father is commanded to relate our national history starting with shame and ending in glory.

Joshua emphasizes that the victory of Israel over their enemies was "not through your sword and not through your bow" (v. 12) but only through God, Who controls the entire universe and every tiny detail in it (see Rashi on v. 7). Israel 's mission is to serve the One God and Him alone, and to shine the light of His unity to the entire world. This is why their national mission in the Land of Israel was to eliminate completely all trace of the idolatrous Canaanites - representing the antithesis of God's unity. The commentary Metzudas David (on verse 14) points out that in essence the task of removing idolatry is internal to each person: "Remove the gods that your fathers served on the other side of the river and in Egypt " - "entirely remove any thought of idolatry from your HEART".

Rashi (on v. 22) comments that Joshua's reason for needling the people until they reaffirmed their staunch commitment not to mingle and assimilate with the nations was that he saw (through holy spirit) that in time to come they would rebel and say "Let us be like the nations" (Ezekiel 20:32). Reflecting on the ravages caused to the Jewish people by the mass assimilations of the past few hundred years should also needle us into mentally and spiritually separating ourselves from contemporary alien influences that can weaken our devotion to the Torah.


The TaNaCh is a unique work that transcends time and applies to all the generations. As we continue our study of our national heritage, we must have the humility to accept that the apparent simplicity of the beautiful weave of stories through which our prophets taught us God's Torah is deceptive. Buried within and behind the prophetic words and letters of the Hebrew text are layers upon layers of meaning, with multiple hints and allusions flying off in every direction. The rabbis and sages who cherished and revered this literature and knew it forwards and backwards by heart have through their Midrashim and other comments opened tiny chinks in the thick veil concealing the infinite light that shines from the words of these texts.

Thus we cannot always take the stories of NaCh as simple consecutive historical narratives. For example, some readers ask why ch 24 v 32 on the burial of Joseph's bones in Shechem comes AFTER the account of the burial of Joshua - is it possible that the people have waited THIRTY-EIGHT years after their entry into the Land before burying Joseph's bones, which they had brought up with them from Egypt??? But the truth is that it is not necessary to infer from our text that they did not bury Joseph until after they had buried Joshua. One of the most important hermeneutic principles of the Torah is that "there is no BEFORE and AFTER in the Torah". Events are often juxtaposed in the verses not because of their temporal contiguity but because of their thematic interconnection.

With Joshua's death and burial in his tribal inheritance in Timnath-Serach in Mt. Ephraim next to Shechem, a whole cycle of history was complete. It was from Shechem that Joseph, Jacob's chosen "first-born", had been stolen by his brothers in accordance with God's deep plan (Genesis 37:14; see Rashi there) and it was to Shechem that he was returned by his brothers, the Children of Israel, in the end. Shechem had been the first place in the Holy Land that Jacob had acquired - he paid good money for it (Genesis 33:19) - and he had given it to Joseph as the "double portion" of the "firstborn" (ibid. 48:22). Joseph's mission (YESOD) was to cause the Divine Presence to dwell in the very Land itself, the material world. The conquest of the Land by Israel under the leadership of Joshua, Joseph's direct descendant, was a crucial stage in the fulfillment of this mission. Now that Joshua had completed his own life's work, it was fitting that he should be laid to rest in Shechem, the very place from which Joseph had been stolen, because Joshua, who like Joseph lived 110 years, was in fact his incarnation. Joshua's burial in Shechem - thereby acquiring his burial place as his eternal possession - was the completion of the cycle that began with Joseph's sale, concluding now with Israel 's possession of the Land. Thus the ATZMOS YOSEPH (literally the "bones" of Joseph, but allusively his very "essence" = ETZEM), were now absorbed into the Land itself. It may be that the physical burial of Joseph's bones actually took place in the early days of the conquest, but it is mentioned here in order to point up the perfection of God's deep plan, through which the cycle always swings around to the end.

"If Israel had not sinned they would have received only the Five Books of Moses and the Book of Joshua, which is the Registry of the Land of Israel (i.e. of its tribal portions)" (Nedarim 22b). The whole of the rest of the narrative and prophetic portions of the NaCh tells the story of how the Israelites failed to drive out the Canaanites and the terrible consequences to which this led. Some say that the only lesson we learn from history is that nobody ever learns anything from history. It may be true that many fail to draw and implement the lessons of history, but we do not have to be like them. In Joshua's final discourse he emphasizes that we are FREE to choose our own path (ch 24 vv. 14-15). Let us choose the path of life and learn the lessons of our national history now in order not to repeat the mistakes of the past in future.



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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