Haftarah Pesach I
March 31, 2018 | 15 Nisan 5778
Joshua 3:5-7, 5:2-2-6:1, 6:27
Joshua, Moshe’s protégé, was chosen to lead the people after Moshe’s death. Moshe had led them during the process of the exodus – through the political machinations in dealing with Pharaoh, the preparations for the sojourn, the circumcision of the males before the Pesach sacrifice, traversing the sea and the long road through the desert. Joshua was expected to pick up the mantle of leadership at the other end of the journey, to rally the people and bring them into the land.
This task in some ways mirrors Moshe’s mission. No one had been circumcised during the fateful journey through the desert and only in the first year after the exodus from Egypt had Pesach been celebrated. As the entry into the land was at hand, so was the need to normalize the life of the people and to reestablish the role of the leader who would be at the head of the people for the next stage in its existence.
Joshua, like Moshe, circumcised the male population and celebrated Pesach with his people. After the reestablishment of these covenantal acts, Joshua is privy to an extraordinary religious experience: “Once, when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man before him, drawn sword in hand; Joshua went up to him, and asked him: ‘Are you for us, or for our adversaries?’ And he replied: ‘No, I am captain of the Lord’s host; Now I have come.’ Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down, and said to him: ‘What does my lord command to his servant?’ And the captain of the Lord’s host said to Joshua: ‘Remove your shoes from your feet; for the place where you stand is holy.’ And Joshua did so.”
This revelation is seemingly odd. First, it is an angel and not God, Himself, who reveals Himself. In addition, Joshua appears clueless as to the identity of the angel. And finally, we are not privy to the content of the revelation. The key to understanding its significance is found in the angel’s command: “Remove your shoes…” These words echo Moshe’s initiation as a prophet at the burning bush, albeit with an angelic stand-in for God. Joshua life now parallels the paradigm of his master and he is now ready to carry on the next phase in his people’s journey.
For Discussion: What is gained by Joshua’s initiation story paralleling that of Moshe’s? Do we gain something when we see our lives through the prism of our traditional heroes?
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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Rashei Yeshiva: Rabbi Joel Levy & Dr. Joshua Kulp.
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