These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem


Posted on August 30, 2013 by David Bogomolny

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599223_10150950529593826_1333776195_n (3)We currently find ourselves in the Hebrew month of Elul, counting down the days to Rosh HaShanah (the Jewish New Year). Traditionally, many Jews recite Psalm 27 every morning during the month of Elul and through the High Holy Days, and I’d like to bring our attention to the final pasuk (verse) of this psalm:

יד. קַוֵּה, אֶל-יְהוָה: חֲזַק, וְיַאֲמֵץ לִבֶּךָ; וְקַוֵּה, אֶל-יְהוָה. 14. Hope for the LORD; be strong, and He will encourage thy heart; hope thou for the LORD.

The words underlined above in this pasuk can be transliterated as ‘chazak va’ya’ematz’, and a nearly identical Hebrew phrase appears again and again in Tanakh (the Jewish Bible) with regard to Joshua’s mission – ‘chazak va’ematz’ – Be strong! Take courage!

In fact, this phrase appears twice in this week’s Torah reading called NitzavimVayelech, in the context of Moses turning the leadership of the Israelites over to Joshua before the People enter the Land of Israel.

The first instance is in Deuteronomy 31:7 when Moses addresses Joshua –

ז. וַיִּקְרָא מֹשֶׁה לִיהוֹשֻׁעַ, וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו לְעֵינֵי כָל-יִשְׂרָאֵל חֲזַק וֶאֱמָץ–כִּי אַתָּה תָּבוֹא אֶת-הָעָם הַזֶּה, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע יְהוָה לַאֲבֹתָם לָתֵת לָהֶם; וְאַתָּה, תַּנְחִילֶנָּה אוֹתָם. 7. And Moses called unto Joshua, and said unto him in the sight of all Israel: ‘Be strong and of good courage; for thou shalt go with this people into the land which the LORD hath sworn unto their fathers to give them; and thou shalt cause them to inherit it.

The second follows shortly after in 31:23 when G-d Himself commands him –

כג. וַיְצַו אֶת-יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן-נוּן, וַיֹּאמֶר חֲזַק וֶאֱמָץ–כִּי אַתָּה תָּבִיא אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר-נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי לָהֶם; וְאָנֹכִי, אֶהְיֶה עִמָּךְ. 23. And he gave Joshua the son of Nun a charge, and said: ‘Be strong and of good courage; for thou shalt bring the children of Israel into the land which I swore unto them; and I will be with thee.’

Moses tells Joshua to go (tavo) with the Israelites into the Land, whereas G-d instructs him to bring (tavi) them there. In Hebrew, these two words are almost identical. So why this difference? Of course, Rashi (1040-1105, France) picks up on this in his commentary on pasuk 31:7 –

כי אתה תבוא את העם הזה: ארי את תיעול עם עמא הדין. משה אמר לו ליהושע, זקנים שבדור יהיו עמך הכל לפי דעתן ועצתן, אבל הקדוש ברוך הוא אמר ליהושע כי אתה תביא את בני ישראל אל הארץ אשר נשבעתי להם (דברים לא, כג), תביא על כרחם הכל תלוי בך, טול מקל והך על קדקדן. דבר אחד לדור, ולא שני דברים לדור: for you shall come with this people: Heb. כִּי אַתָּה תָּבוֹא אֶת-הָעָם הַזֶּה [as the Targum renders:]“For you shall come with this people,” [hence, the אֶת here means “with.” Accordingly, Moses’ statement of leadership role to Joshua can be understood as follows]: Moses said to Joshua, “The elders of the generation will be with you, [for] everything should be done according to their opinion and counsel.” In contrast, however, the Holy One, Blessed is He, said to Joshua,“For you shall bring (תָּבִיא) the children of Israel to the land which I have sworn to them” (verse 23). [God’s statement of leadership role to Joshua here means:] “You shall bring them [even if it is] against their will! Everything depends [only] upon you; [if necessary,] you must take a rod and beat them over their heads! There can be [only] one leader for a generation, not two leaders for a generation.”- [Sanh. 8a]

The first case appears to be a ‘consensus’ form of leadership – Moses is instructing Joshua to consult with the Israelite elders before leading the People, while in the second case G-d presents Joshua with an authority-oriented approach to leadership… informing our hero that G-d “will be with” him in this endeavor.

Both approaches, appearing in the very same chapter of the Torah, have their place, but what can we take away from this in our world of decentralized authority? The Jewish People haven’t had a leader for thousands of years – so who will go with us, or bring us to our destination?

One answer to this question may lie back in that final line of Psalm 27… but how is ‘chazak va’ya’ematz’ different than the ‘chazak va’ematz’ in the story of Joshua?

In this week’s Torah reading, both Moses and G-d instruct Joshua to be strong and courageous – it is incumbent upon him. On the other hand, Psalm 27 suggests a different approach: “Hope for the LORD; be strong, and He will encourage thy heart; hope thou for the LORD.” This pasuk tells us to hope and be strong, but G-d will encourage our hearts – not us.

In today’s uncertain world we must be led by our hope, as well as our strength, but we are not alone on our journeys, for G-d will provide our hearts with courage. At this time of reflection and accounting before Rosh HaShanah, this is a central message of Psalm 27 – this is what I remind myself of when I recite it every morning: it’s not all up to me.

יד. קַוֵּה, אֶל-יְהוָה: חֲזַק, וְיַאֲמֵץ לִבֶּךָ; וְקַוֵּה, אֶל-יְהוָה. 14. Hope for the LORD; be strong, and He will encourage thy heart; hope thou for the LORD.