Don’t be intimidated or influenced by anyone who wants to delegitimize the Jewish people and their right to the land of Israel. Remember, this land belongs to no one else.
This week’s Torah portion is Shlach (Numbers 13:1-15:41). In it, we read the story of the 12 spies who were sent to check out the Promised Land. Before Moses sent the spies on their mission, he took aside one of them, Hoshea, and changed his name to “Yehoshua” – Joshua. In Hebrew, this change took the form of adding a letter to his name. Added was the letter yud, often transliterated as a “Y” or “J.”
We are told that Moses chose to add a yud to Hoshea’s name because it” is symbolic of God’s name (Ex. Hallelu-Ya!). Indeed, a number of God’s names begin with a yud or are represented by the yud. By adding the yud, Moses was sending a hidden message to Joshua: May God save you from the evil plan of the other spies. For those unfamiliar, 10 of the 12 spies gave a slanderous report about the land of Israel, while Kaleb and Joshua gave a good report. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the Jewish people believed the evil, slanderous spies and wanted to abandon the trek to the Promised Land and instead return to Egypt! As a result, God punished the Jewish people by making them wander in the desert for 40 years so that all those who had believed the evil spies would have passed away and not entered the land.
The story of Joshua’s name change gets better. Another reason that Moses chose to add a yud to Joshua’s name was to recall Sarah. Sarah’s original name was Sarai (with a yud) but her name was changed to Sarah, dropping the yud.
The commentators all ask: Why is Sarah back in the spotlight? She’s been deceased for generations already! All of a sudden she’s making a comeback with Joshua. What’s going on over here?
As mentioned, Joshua was in need of extra strength to overcome the temptation of joining the evil spies. Sarah, however, exemplified the power to be able to do so. How so? When Isaac was a child, Sarah was worried that he would be influenced by his evil half-brother, Yishmael. As a result, she had Yishmael and his mother, Hager, sent away from their home. Although it was certainly uncomfortable for Abraham to expel his own son from his home, Sarah insisted that he do so because she knew what kind of negative influence Yishmael might have had on Isaac.
When Moses realized that Joshua would need extra strength to be able to avoid the negative influences of the other spies, he thought of Sarah. Hence, he imbued Joshua with a “piece” of Sara by giving him the yud from her name.
There is yet another interpretation to the mysterious yud. When Moses sent out the spies, he gave them a number of different instructions. For example, he asked the spies to make an assessment of the Canaanites’ military capabilities. He also asked them to examine the actual land itself, whether the land was fertile, what kind of produce could grow there, the quality of its fruit, etc.
But the question is asked: It is certainly understandable that Moses was interested in the military assessment, as they were on their way to conquer and liberate the land. They had to be prepared! But why did Moses need to know what kinds of grapes and potatoes grow in Israel? Was he planning to open a grocery store?
The answer is that Moses wanted the spies to examine the land and its fruits so that they would begin to feel “at home.” He wanted the people to sensitize themselves that…this will be their new home! Forget Egypt. Forget the desert. Take a good look at what’s coming to you and prepare accordingly. It’s all yours. You will be the masters of this land.
That, my friends, is what our attitude should be. This land is our land. We are at home. It belongs to us. We are its masters. We will work the land and enjoy its “fruit” – in all its connotations. This is yet another reason why Sarah’s influence was important in Joshua’s life. Sarah knew that “This one [Yishmael] will not inherit with my son” [Genesis 21:10]. The Yishmaelites have no portion in the land of Israel. It belongs completely to Isaac, the son of Sarah, who was the father of Jacob. Jacob was yet another one in the Torah whose name was changed. It was changed to: ISRAEL.
The message for us is that we need the “Sarah attitude.” Don’t be intimidated or influenced by anyone who wants to delegitimize the Jewish people and their right to the land of Israel. Stay focused. And remember, this land belongs to no one but the Jewish people. Your mother Sarah told you so.
For more insights by Rabbi Ari Enkin on this week’s Torah reading, click on the links below: