Rabbi Bernie Fox

The Relationship between the Torah and the Navi

And Moshe said to them:  If you do this and arm yourself for war before Hashem and you pass over the Jordan – each of you armed – before Hashem, until His enemies have been driven out before Him, and the land is captured before Hashem, and (only) afterwards you return, then you will be innocent before Hashem and Yisrael and this land will be yours as a possession before Hashem.  (Sefer BeMidbar 32:20-22)

1. Moshe’s agreement with the tribes of Reuven and Gad

In the previous parasha, Hashem told Moshe that his time had come to a close.  Yehoshua was identified as the next leader. In Parshat Mattot, the Torah continues its description of Moshe’s final acts as leader of Bnai Yisrael.  The nation was encamped on the eastern bank of the Jordan.  This territory was recently captured by Bnai Yisrael in its conquest over the kingdoms of Sichon and Og. The people were poised to cross the Jordan under Yehoshua’s leadership and take possession of the Land of Israel.  The Torah relates that Moshe was approached by two of the shevatim – the tribes.  These shevatim had a controversial request.  They told Moshe that they judged the land that the nation currently occupied as ideal for their settlement.  These tribes possessed immense flocks and this land was perfect for grazing.  They suggested to Moshe that they forfeit their portion in the territory west of the Jordan in exchange for the land they currently occupied. 

Upon hearing this request, Moshe sternly chastised these shevatim.  He reminded them how the timidity of the previous generation had led to its demise.  That generation lacked the courage to follow Hashem into the land and conquer it.  The generation was condemned to wander in the wilderness for forty years and denied entry into the promised land.  Now, a more courageous and confident generation was beckoned to enter and conquer its legacy beyond the Jordan.  However, the suggestion that these tribes now presented was sure to undermine this courage and confidence.  When the nation learned that two of its shevatim were not prepared to cross the Jordan and conquer the nations of Cana’an, their confidence would be severely shaken.  They might repeat the sin of their fathers and refuse to proceed – thereby condemning yet another generation to death and destruction.  

These shevatim understood Moshe’s concern and responded responsibly.  They suggested that they lead the nation across the Jordan and form the vanguard of the conquering army.  They would battle alongside their brothers.  Only after the other tribes possessed their own portions in the land west of the Jordan would they return to the eastern bank and settle the territory they now sought.

And Moshe commanded Elazar the Kohen and Yehoshua bin Nun and the leadership of the tribes of Bnai Yisrael in their regard.  And Moshe said to them: If the children of Gad and Reuven pass over the Jordan with you – all armed for war – before Hashem, and the land is captured before you, then you should give to them the Land of Gilad as a possession.  (Sefer BeMidbar 32:28-29)

And to the people of Reuven, Gad and half of the tribe of Menashe Yehoshua said:  Remember that which Moshe the servant of Hashem commanded you saying, “Hashem your G-d has relieved you and given you this land.  Your wives, children, and cattle should dwell in the land that Moshe gave you across the Jordan. And you will pass over armed before your brothers – every mighty warrior – and assist them.  (Sefer Yehoshua 1:12-14)

2. Moshe’s charge to the next generation to observe and enforce the agreement

Moshe accepted this offer.  However, he would not pass over the Jordan with the nation and could not expect to enforce the terms of the agreement.  He convened the nation’s leadership – Yehoshua, Elazar the Kohen and the heads of the shevatim.  He communicated to them the agreement that had been reached and charged all parties to observe the terms of the agreement and its conditions.  

This leadership was scrupulous in its observance of the agreement reached between Moshe and the shevatim of Reuven and Gad.  Sefer Yehoshua, the first of the books of the Prophets, continues the account of the conquest of the Land of Israel.  It opens with a description of Yehoshua’s first measures as the leader of the nation.  Virtually his first act was to reaffirm with Reuven and Gad the agreement reached between them and Moshe.  However, the inclusion of the account of this reaffirmation in the Navi is a little odd.

Sefer Yehoshua deals with the conquest of the Land of Israel by the nation led by Yehoshua.  The Navi describes the miracles that accompanied this conquest, and the challenges that were faced by the nation and its leadership in fulfilling their destiny.  The Navi opens with Yehoshua’s assumption of leadership responsibility and Hashem’s charge to him.  It continues with Yehoshua’s instructions to the people to prepare themselves to cross the Jordan and initiate the conquest.  Then suddenly, the Navi describes Yehoshua’s discussion with the shevatim of Reuven and Gad.  Insertion of this discussion breaks the rhythm and tempo of the text.   The text is describing a moment of enormous historical import.  Moshe’s successor is charged by Hashem to take over leadership of the nation.  He prepares the nation to meet its destiny and then suddenly the text interrupts to describe Yehoshua’s review of a recent agreement between Moshe and the shevatim of Reuven and Gad – in all its details. 

3. The relationship between Moshe and Yehoshua

One simple explanation is that the Navi is communicating that Yehoshua was not a new leader who redirected the nation along a path that he selected.  Instead, Yehoshua continued the mission that Moshe initiated.  The inclusion Yehoshua’s review of Moshe’s agreement with the shevatim of Reuven and Gad – one of Moshe’s final acts – demonstrates and announces that Yehoshua is Moshe’s successor both as leader and as guardian of the mission assigned to Moshe by Hashem.  

An alternative explanation for the composition of Sefer Yehoshua’s opening passages is suggested by a fascinating comment of Malbim.  In order to undertand Malbim’s insight, an introduction is required.

Do not be like your fathers to whom the ancient prophets called saying: Thus says Hashem, Lord of Hosts, “Repent now from your evil ways and from your evil actions.”  “And they did not listen or pay attention to me” says Hashem.  Where are your fathers?  And will the prophets live forever? (Sefer Zecharya 1:4-5)

4. The close of the era of the prophets

Zecharya was one of the final prophets.  He lived during the period of the nation’s restoration to the Land of Israel that followed the first exile and the destruction of the first Bait HaMikdash.  Zecharya was charged with the difficult task of encouraging the exiles to return to the Land of Israel and to repent from the behaviors that had occasioned their parents’ exile and suffering.  In the opening chapter of Sefer Zecharya, he urges the people to consider the experiences of their parents and the lesson expressed in those experiences.  They had rejected the repeated messages of the prophets.  They had stubbornly refused to repent.  Their obstinate attitude led to their downfall, exile, and terrible suffering.  He admonishes the people to consider, “Where are your fathers?”  In other words, consider their ill-chosen actions and the consequences.  However, Zecharya then adds another admonition, “Will the prophets live forever?”  

This is a rather enigmatic question!  What point is Zecharya making?  The commentators differ in their interpretations.  However, Malbim offers a simple explanation.  Zecharya is bidding the nation farewell – on his own behalf and on behalf of the institution of prophecy.  He is announcing that the era of the prophets has come to an end.  All that is to be said by the prophets has been said.  The prophets have delivered their warnings.  Their admonitions were ignored and the foretold consequences came to pass.  Now, it is the nation’s responsibility to heed their often repeated message – return to Hashem.

5. The mission of the prophets

Malbim is suggesting a solution to an oft asked question.  The period of the prophets extended through the period of the first exile and then came to a conclusion.  Latter generations were not admonished by their own prophets. Why did era of the prophets come to a sudden and absolute conclusion?

Malbim’s response is that the prophets shared a primary mission.  This mission was to communicate to and impress upon the nation that its fate is a direct consequence of its moral, ethical, and religious behavior. The geopolitical or economic forces that may drive the fates of other nations are not relevant to the destiny of Bnai Yisrael.  The destiny of Bnai Yisrael is the product of providence and that providence is a response to the nation’s behaviors and values.  Malbim is explaining that the prophets taught this lesson through constantly describing the events and experiences in the nation’s life as the fulfillment of the promises outlined in the Torah.  

The Books of the Prophets are the recorded account of the prophets’ mission.  Sefer Yehoshua begins this narrative.  It describes the fulfillment of the historic promise made to the patriarchs and recorded in the Torah that their descendants would possess the Land of Israel.  This narrative continues through the last of the Books of the Prophets. Each of the books demonstrates the relationship between contemporary events and the promises of the Torah.  

6. Sefer Yehoshua begins the account of unfolding of the Torah’s promises

Malbim’s insight provides a possible alternative explanation for the opening of Sefer Yehoshua.  The reference in the opening passages to Moshe’s agreement with the shevatim of Reuven and Gad demonstrates that the Sefer is a continuation of the narrative of the Torah.  It announces that the Navi begins at the exact point at which the Torah’s account ended.  The Torah’s account outlined the blueprint for Bnai Yisrael’s destiny. The Books of the Prophets describe the unfolding and fulfillment of that destiny.  Reference to this event suggests the textual continuity between the Torah and the Prophets.  The Torah’s account of Moshe’s final days serves as a segue linking the final episodes of the Torah to the opening scenes of the Navi.