Yehoshua Chapter 12
This chapter summarizes the conquests of Yehoshua and his army in the land of Israel. Fascinatingly, it begins with a recap of the conquest of the Transjordan under the command of Moshe and the territory he captured from Og, King of Bashan and Sihon, King of the Emorites. It concludes with a list of the thirty-one kings (southern and northern) who were overthrown and defeated, and their land acquired, by Yehoshua and his army.
In a proper scroll of the Book of Yehoshua, reproduced in some editions of the Tanakh, this list of kings is recorded in the Biblical poetic form, with wide spaces on the page dividing each verse in half. Songs and poems are typically used in Tanakh to indicate the conclusion of an era or the occurrence of a significant transition in history, focus, spiritual awareness, or leadership (consider the Song at the Sea when the Exodus is finally complete, the song of Hanna heralding the new era of leadership in the time of Shemuel, or the song of Devorah.)
The reason for the connection back to Moshe Rabbenu’s initial conquests should be clear in light of what we have discussed previously. Throughout the book, there is a continual effort to relate Yehoshua’s actions, decisions, and experiences to those of Moshe Rabbenu, to demonstrate that he is, in effect, completing work that was started but left undone by his master and mentor.
Here too, Yehoshua has successfully conducted the conquest of large swaths of the land of Israel, bringing the task first begun by Moshe Rabbenu to the next stage of its development. It was critical that Moshe Rabbenu be the one to capture the territory on the eastern side of the Jordan River so that the military operations on the mainland of Israel could be viewed as the extension and conclusion of his efforts and not seen as an unprecedented initiative of Yehoshua and the new generation of Jews.
Yehoshua Chapter 13
Yehoshua had reached an advanced age but there was still much territory left in Israel to be conquered. This land, still in the hands of its original Canaanite inhabitants, would have to be captured by the Jewish people after Yehoshua’s death. Hashem commanded Yehoshua that, despite the fact that the conquest was not yet complete, he should begin the process of dividing the land amongst the twelve tribes. In so doing, Yehoshua would be finishing a task that was started by Moshe Rabbenu on the eastern side of the Jordan River.
After defeating Sihon and Og in the Transjordan, Moshe had distributed their territory to the tribes of Reuven and Gad and half the tribe of Menashe. The chapter provides a detailed description of which portions were allocated to which tribes, and mentions that, even following the conquest led by Moshe himself, some Canaanite inhabitants remained in the area and continued dwelling alongside these tribes. The text notes twice that the tribe of Levi, consecrated to the worship of Hashem, would not receive a portion in the land – service of Hashem and its associated benefits would serve as their inheritance instead.
Yehoshua Chapter 14
This chapter opens by recapping the inheritance of the two and a half tribes on the eastern side of the Jordan River, as well as emphasizing once more that the count of “twelve” tribes does not include Levi – it treats Ephraim and Menashe, subdivisions of family of Yosef, as two tribes. The point is made that the apportionment of the land by Yehoshua, the elders and Elazar the Kohen Gadol is “as Hashem commanded Moshe”, it is just as significant and binding as that which was done by Moshe during his lifetime, and is in fulfillment of the same divine commandment.
At this point, the tribe of Yehuda, represented by the illustrious Kalev ben Yefuneh, approached Yehoshua to claim their inheritance. Kalev recounted his role as one of the spies dispatched by Moshe Rabbenu to scout the land forty-five years earlier; only he and Yehoshua returned with a positive and encouraging report and were, therefore, worthy of entering Israel. Kalev mentioned that he was only forty years old when he first visited the Holy Land as one of the spies; as he prepared to receive the reward he had earned for his faithfulness to Hashem, he had reached the age of eighty-five but was still as youthful, strong and vigorous as he had been forty five years earlier. He declared his readiness to vanquish the giants who resided in the territory destined to be his, and he proceeded to conquer the intimidating inhabitants of Hevron and settled there as he had been promised.
The Torah tells us that the spies went up to Hevron during their mission. According to the Rabbis it was Kalev alone who visited Hevron in order to pray next to the graves of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs who are buried there. While Yehoshua had Moshe Rabbenu as his mentor and source of support, Kalev had no special connection to him prior to the sin of the spies. Unlike Yehoshua whom we expect to side with Moshe Rabbenu, Kalev’s independent spirit and willingness to break ranks with the other ten spies was startling.
The Rabbis seem to suggest that he derived his courage and inner strength not from a close relationship with Moshe Rabbenu but from his meditation upon the example set by the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. The Avot and Imahot had no interest in the approval of their society and made no attempt to “fit in”; they were fiercely independent and chose a path they knew to be correct, regardless of what anyone else might think. This is precisely what Kalev did in the episode of the spies and it was therefore fitting that he inherit the territory that contained the burial plot of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs whose memory inspired him to greatness.
Yehoshua Chapter 15
This chapter proceeds to describe the borders of the Tribe of Yehuda in all of their detail. We are told of the conquests of Kalev, including the fact that he drove the infamous and imposing “Children of the Giant” out of Qiryat Arba. Kalev promised that whoever was successful in capturing Qiryat Sefer would be rewarded with the opportunity to marry his daughter, Akhsa; his own brother, Otniel ben Qenaz, conquered the city and married her. She was displeased with the property that her father Kalev had given her and her new husband as a “nest egg”; it was arid land that would be difficult, if not impossible, to cultivate. Her husband Otniel did not want to confront his brother on this issue, so she personally pleaded with her father to provide her with springs of water that would enable her to irrigate the fields she had received. Kalev graciously honored her request and presented her with a field that had plentiful sources of water both above and below it. The chapter closes by mentioning that the tribe of Yehuda could not (or, at least, would not) conquer Yerushalayim, leaving it in the hands of the Yevusim for the foreseeable future.
The Rabbis interpret the scenario with Kalev, Otniel and Akhsa along totally different, spiritual lines. According to their reading of the incident, Kalev offered his daughter’s hand in marriage to whomever was able to reconstruct the thousands of halakhot that had been lost during the thirty days of mourning that followed the death of Moshe Rabbenu. “Qiryat Sefer”, the “City of Book”, is understood as a symbolic reference not to a military conquest but an intellectual achievement.
Otniel rose to the occasion and, with his remarkable powers of reasoning, was able to rediscover and restore the details of law that had been forgotten after Moshe’s passing. When Akhsa complained to her father, it was about the fact that he had given her “dry land” – suggesting, idiomatically, that he had married her off to a person who had only Torah and spirituality but no practical means of supporting her on a financial level. Therefore, Kalev provided the new couple with additional fields that he knew would allow them to live comfortably and harmoniously together.
The Rabbis could not accept the notion that Kalev, a “man of spirit”, would allow his daughter to be married to a man whose only merit was military prowess. There had to be more to Otniel (later to become the first “Judge” in the Book of Shofetim) than a mighty warrior. Thus, they understood the story as a parable that reflected the spiritual strength of Otniel and his ability to resolve a major religious crisis – the loss of halakhot – that had vexed the Jewish people.
Interestingly, this account of Kalev, Otniel and Akhsa appears twice in the Tanakh - once here and once in the Book of Shofetim. The commentary Malbim explains that both the physical conquest version of the story and the spiritual one are true, and that the verbatim repetition of the narrative is intended to reveal to us BOTH dimensions of what actually took place.
Yehoshua Chapter 16
This brief chapter provides us with a detailed description of the borders of the territory given to “Yosef”, specifically to the tribe of Ephraim. The fact that Yehudah and Yosef receive a great deal of special attention in this regard makes sense in light of the fact that the blessings of both Yaaqov and Moshe Rabbenu to these brothers/tribes emphasized the unique significance the role they were destined to play in leading the Jewish nation.
Maps are very useful for helping us envision the exact areas delineated in this and several other geographically rich sections of the book of Yehoshua. The two tribes of Yosef – Ephraim and Menashe – settled in a large swath of land to the north of the territories of Yehuda and Binyamin. When we study the Book of Kings, we will learn how this territory later became the seat of the Kingdom of Israel, which declared independence from the governance of the Davidic dynasty or “Kingdom of Yehuda” shortly after the death of King Solomon.
Yehoshua Chapter 17
This chapter concludes the description of the territorial borders of Yosef by addressing the land inherited by the tribe of Menashe. Two special features distinguished Menashe’s portion in Israel from that of the other tribes. First, Menashe is the only tribe that “straddles” the Jordan River, with half of its population settled in the Transjordan and half in mainland Israel. Second, the daughters of Tzelofhad – members of the tribe of Menashe – had been promised their father’s share in Israel despite the fact that, generally speaking, women did not receive their own inheritance.
Both of these unusual circumstances are addressed in detail in this chapter, especially the fulfillment of the commandment of Hashem to Moshe that the daughters of Tzelofhad receive their father’s portion in the land since he had no sons to represent him. The territory of Menashe is also noteworthy in that several of the cities that were given to Menashe were located within the borders of other tribes.
The chapter concludes by mentioning that the two tribes of Yosef approached Yehoshua to complain that the amount of the land they received was not commensurate with the size of their population (it is interesting to note that Yehoshua himself was a member of the tribe of Ephraim.) Yehoshua recommended that they solve their own problem by clearing a forest that was situated within their territory as well as by driving out some of the remaining Canaanites in the land and expanding their current borders.
The children of Yosef protest that the Canaanite cities are too formidable for them to conquer; they are amply equipped with iron chariots and a strong military. Yehoshua reiterates that the very complaint they are lodging against him contains the answer to the problem – if they are indeed so numerous, they should be more than capable of clearing the forest he had mentioned and of defeating the resident Canaanites regardless of their might.
Yehoshua Chapter 18
This chapter begins with a description of how Yehoshua moved the Mishkan from Gilgal to a new location in Shilo. Yehoshua gathered the entire population together and criticized the tribes who had been reticent about conquering and settling the land that Hashem had promised them. He encouraged them to complete the process as soon as possible. To this end, he requested the appointment of three men for each tribe who would scout the land and record the borders of the seven portions of land that remained for the seven tribes who had not yet acquired any territory of their own.
Once these seven parcels were identified, they would be assigned to the respective tribes by lottery and the responsibility of capturing and settling them would fall to their recipients. The chapter concludes with a detailed description of the borders of the territory of the Tribe of Binyamin, which was positioned in between Yosef (Ephraim) to the North and Yehudah to the South.
The connection between the relocation of the Mishkan and the remainder of the chapter is difficult to understand. Why was this the appropriate time to move the national sanctuary to a new neighborhood? Apparently, Yehoshua understood that the Jewish people had become comfortably habituated to living as one in a single valley in Gilgal – the same kind of lifestyle they had enjoyed for the past forty years - and that this was a key reason for their resistance to continuing the conquest of the land. They preferred to stay together, close to the Mishkan and under the direct supervision of their leaders and elders.
By disbanding the camp at Gilgal and relocating the sanctuary to Shilo (within the forests of his own tribe, Ephraim), Yehoshua undermined the status quo that had become so cozy and familiar and thereby pushed the tribes to go out on their own and establish new settlements in the land.
Undoubtedly, there are echoes of the famous story of the Tower of Bavel in this narrative – the idea that the entire population occupied one valley, wished to remain united and feared and opposed any prospect of dispersion. Here, as there, only a commandment of Hashem and a pulling of the rug from underneath their feet compels them to pick up, move out of their immediate comfort zone and go about the business of inhabiting the entire land.
Two aspects of the borders of the Tribe of Binyamin are important to mention. First, Binyamin lies between Ephraim/Yosef and Yehuda. It is certainly no accident that Yosef and Yehuda the brothers were ultimately reunited and reconciled with one another as a result of the situation with Binyamin who “came between them”. Geographically, Binyamin creates a bridge to connect the two “personalities of leadership” and their descendants who will determine the political and spiritual future of the nation.
Second, the Hebrew term “ketef”, or shoulder, is used numerous times in the description of the borders of Binyamin, alluding to the blessing of Moshe Rabbenu that Hashem’s presence will dwell “between the shoulders” of Binyamin. The Bet HaMiqdash will ultimately be built in the territory of Binyamin, and this national center of worship of Hashem and Torah study is the foundation that brings Yehuda, Yosef and the entire Jewish people together as one despite their differences.
Yehoshua Chapter 19
This chapter describes how the six remaining tribes (Shimon, Zevulun, Yissakhar, Naftali, Dan and Asher) conquered and settled their respective territories in the Land of Israel. While many of the details appear to us uninteresting, clearly the delineation of borders between the tribes is very significant for both practical and theological reasons that are rooted in the specific promises made to them by Hashem, the specific berakhot recorded in the Torah that they received from Yaaqov and Moshe, and the special role that each is destined to play in the future of the Jewish people.
Although they are beyond the scope of a summary, commentaries have been written on these chapters that indeed attempt to uncover the symbolic import of the allocation of particular areas or cities to particular tribes. On a very simple level, if one reads the blessings of Moshe Rabbenu at the end of the Torah in front of a map, one will see that the order of his blessings corresponds to the layout of the tribe’s inheritances in the Land of Israel (and excludes Shimon, who don’t have a separate area of their own.)
A few highlights are worthy of mention. The tribe of Shimon was told by Yaaqov Avinu that they would be dispersed throughout Israel and was not even acknowledged in the blessings conferred by Moshe Rabbenu at the end of his life; in this chapter, we read how they are not given their own swath of land but instead receive scattered cities within the boundaries of the Tribe of Yehuda which were ample. Their counterpart, the Tribe of Levi, will be discussed in the next chapter.
The chapter describes how the tribe of Dan attacked and conquered Leshem/Layish and renamed it Dan; this incident actually occurred after the death of Yehoshua and is recorded in the Book of Shofetim but is included here because of its relevance to the theme of conquest and settlement.
The chapter concludes by mentioning that Yehoshua was given the territory that he requested, Timnat Serah, which was located in the land allocated to his own tribe, in the mountains of Ephraim. Yehoshua built a city there and remained there until the end of his life.
This marked the conclusion of the division of the land to the extent that it was completed before his death; there was still much land left unconquered and unsettled, and many Canaanite settlements remained within the borders of Israel, but Yehoshua failed to inspire his generation to take the process of conquest any further than this. Some commentaries blame him for this, claiming that his initial reluctance to complete the task quickly set the stage for it not to be completed at all.