Tuesday, February 18, 2014

lo yamish m'toch ha'ohel - no matter what the crisis

Why does the Torah bother to record Yehoshua’s reaction to the sound of the eigel worship, “Kol milchama ba’machanah,” “A sound of war is in the camp,” when he got it wrong, as Moshe immediately told him? 

Because he was not as wrong as we think he was.  The sounds of war that Yehoshua recognized were the sounds he had heard in the fight against Amalek.  At that time, Amalek had attacked the stragglers, those who for whatever reason were left outside the protection of the ananei hakavod.  Now, said Yehoshua, “Kol milchama bamachaneh,” that sound of battle with Amalek were in the very midst of the camp.  What was the tumult over the eigel if not a resurgence of the evil of Amalek? (Sefas Emes)

Moshe davened for Bnei Yisrael, Hashem’s anger was assuaged, the 3000 who worshipped the eigel were killed, but all was still not right, as evidenced from the fact that Moshe moved his tent outside the camp.  It would take forty more days of work for Moshe to restore unity in Klal Yisrael and undo the damage caused by the eigel.  The Torah then again comes back to Yehoshua: “…V’Yehoshua bin Nun na’ar, lo yamish m’toch ha’ohel.” (33:11)   Why does the Torah shift gears and give us half a pasuk about what Yehoshua was doing,right in the middle of the description of Moshe's "cleanup" efforts?

The Netziv writes that Moshe had a tremendous amount of work to do in rehabilitating the damage done by the cheit ha’eigel.  Even though Yehoshua is described here as a “na’ar,” in reality he was in his 50’s and had been learning in “kollel” at the feet of Moshe for years.  Wouldn’t Yehoshua have been the natural choice to help Moshe in his efforts to repair the damage that had been done? 

That’s exactly the thinking that the Torah here tells us is wrong.  Moshe’s job was being the manhig ha’dor, being the leader, and with that came the responsibility of shouldering the burdens and work that was needed.  Yehoshua’s job was being a talmid engaged in learning.  Doing that job means no matter what the crisis, no matter how important the needs out there may seem, “lo yamish m’toch ha’ohel,” one must keep learning. 


  1. Hmm... I think you could have said precisely the opposite. Yes, learning is important, but when the Klal needs you - you go out and help and not stay up in your ivory tower. (I am sure there are a few Ra'ayos to this effect). Maybe if Yehoshua had been out there with the people as a proxy for his Rebbe - maybe the Eigel would not have happened.
    This is how some want to learn the Ramban - people made a mistake and thought that they could only replace Moshe with a god-like deity, not another human being. But if Yehoshua was there - he could have said - OK, Moshe is not here, I know you miss him as your leader and your "tourguide through the desert", but I am here now to take his place. Let's go!" No egel.
    Also, a technical question: if Moshe is up wherever he is, what exactly does Yehoshua gain being at the foot of the mountain? Especially, given that the people were going through a crisis. (maybe someone should have gotten him...)

  2. The only problem with your thesis is that there is not one word of blame or critcism levelled at Yehoshua. Moshe asks Aharon what happened, but he never turns to his talmid Yehoshua and to ask the same question. Secondly, the pasuk of "lo yamish" is after the eigel incident. Moshe was back already, and still Yehoshua maintained status quo, and Moshe did not say anything about it.

  3. i still have to disagree

    a) The Netziv may not be the best material for a Drasha for the reason/sentiments I mention
    b) Why can't you say "Lo Yamish" is either a. simply stating a fact of where Yehoshua was (ok somewhat shver) or b. it was a minor critiscm - he was by the Har but not with the people- precisely the problem! He should have checked on the ppl!
    c) wouldn't an understudy like Yehoshua benefit from being with the people during their Rebbe's absence both for L'Maaseh practical reasons as well as "pastoral practice"...
    d) you didn't answer what Yehoshua really accomplishes (even) in his learning by being at the foot of the mountain - if his Rebbe is L'Maaseh not there - as opposed to continuing to learn amongst the ppl.