Parshat Shelach

This week brings us the tragic tale of the spies and Moshe’s puzzling change of name from Hoshea to Yehoshua Bin Nun. The Talmud actually suggests that the original names of all the spies were different but they received pseudonyms in view of their actions, such as “Nachbi” meaning to hide, and “Satur” meaning to confront. Some commentators explain that Moshe actually changed Yehoshua’s name at the start of the exodus, but it was relevant to mention here in the context of names suiting character traits.

Rav Baruch Halevi Epstien explains that Moshe was actually more concerned with family traits. The Midrash relates that when Yosef’s cup was found in Benyamin’s sack, the brothers’ thought he had stolen it, just as his mother Rachel had stolen her father’s idols. Similarly Moshe was concerned that Yehoshua who was from the tribe of Yosef would speak badly, just as Yosef had spoken badly of his brothers to his father Yakov which eventually led to the exile to Egypt.

Moshe’s concern with Yehushua could perhaps be looked at in two different ways. Firstly that he was not yet quite sure of Yehoshua’s capabilities as when Yehoshua has appeared till now it had not gone so well. When Yehoshua went out to fight Amalek Moshe had to stand at the top of the hill and keep his hands raised to help win the battle and just last week when Eldad and Medad started prophesying and Yehoshua came running to Moshe his response was rather offhand. On the the other hand maybe Moshe was preparing him for greater things. Here he chose him with eleven others as a tribal prince even though he was in reality spending time at Moshe’s beck and call and that is why as Rashi tells us he changed his name and prayed for him to be a good influence on the others and probably that is why he put him in there as he was not able to send anyone from his own tribe.

As it turned out things went badly but as we can see Yehoshua Bin Nun under Moshe’s guidance became a worthy leader and commentators suggest that the unusual use of his title “Bin” the son of rather than “Ben” derives from the word “Bina” understanding or astuteness. It seems that he learned from his experience and had good intelligence before military action and we can see he learned his lessons and had better success when sending spies before conquering Jericho. In fact he sent just two spies whose name are not even mentioned probably trained guys from the “shabak”.The Talmud tells us that he married Rahav (the inn keeper from Jericho) and at least eight prophets, including Chulda the prophetess, were descended from him. So it looks like the family did well.

Changing names or using our Hebrew names is something some consider. My Hebrew name is Arye but most know me as Louis and now that the name has come back into fashion with the new prince more know that the “s” is silent as Prince Katherine sent out a Twitter after his birth explaining so. My wife Aviva’s name was also unusual in the UK until the Norwich Union insurance company decided to change their name to Aviva, and we now hear and see slogans like ” You are safe with Aviva”. As in the words of the Bard “What is ‘in a name? that which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”

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