Photo Credit: Asher Schwartz

Yehoshua was one of Israel’s greatest leaders because he represented the ideal expression of the Yosef force – one  consciously rooted in, guided by and completely subordinate to the Hebrew mission.

The 26th of Nisan marks the anniversary of the passing of Yehoshua bin-Nun – the warrior prophet who excelled as Moshe’s disciple in Torah, stood strong against Israel’s greatest scholars when they erred, led the Hebrews in liberating Eretz Yisrael from Canaanite rule and divided the homeland into portions for the Israelite tribes.

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Even before the war to liberate Eretz Yisrael from the Canaanite kingdoms, Moshe dispatched Yehoshua to lead Israel’s forces against Amalek because – as a tribesman of Ephraim (the more dominant sub-tribe of Yosef) – Yehoshua was best equipped to lead the fight against Esav (Amalek is the most militant and self-aware component of Esav).

The prophet Ovadia, himself a descendent of Esav who joined the nation of Israel and served as prime minister to King Aḥav (also a tribesman of Ephraim), clearly prophesied that while Yaakov is fire and Esav is straw, Yosef is the flame that consumes Esav (Ovadia 1:18).

Going deeper, our matriarch Rivka saw that the power to be “like Esav” existed within Yaakov. Yitzḥak, by contrast, believed it necessary for the twins to work as partners, with Yaakov acting as the visionary/ideologue and Esav being the builder (of armies, economies, nations, etc.).

The power to be “like Esav” that Rivka saw within Yaakov was embedded within Yosef. In fact, Rashi teaches on B’reishit 30:25 that it was Yosef’s birth that prompted Yaakov to realize his own ability to return to his homeland and confront his brother.

Throughout history, Yosef has been the power within Israel that focuses on the material wellbeing of the nation (security, economy, etc.) and is able to act in matters of statecraft, economics and war like the dominant nations of any given period (formidable empires from ancient Egypt to the United States).

At the same time, however, Yosef is also the part of Israel most vulnerable to being influenced by the cultures and values of dominant nations and empires (modern scholars have even identified Zionism with the force of Yosef – both the Hebrew words Tzion and Yosef share the numerical value of 156). This has led to many episodes of tension in our history between the forces of Yosef and Yehuda (which represents the uniqueness, vision and mission of Am Yisrael) tensions that manifest in Israeli society today as a cultural conflict between the ideals of Tel Aviv (Zionism) and Jerusalem (what comes after Zionism).

Yehoshua was one of Israel’s greatest national leaders because he represented the ideal expression of the Yosef force – one consciously rooted in, guided by and completely subordinate to Torah. He organized not only Israel’s military, which he personally led into battle after battle, but also Israeli society once the country was free. His success largely stemmed from the explosive messianic combination of his power to succeed in the affairs of this world with the values and vision from beyond this world that he received from his master Moshe.

It was for Yehoshua’s righteousness and valor that even the sun stood still, and the memory of his greatness should continue to serve as a light to the children of Israel.

[Originally published at Vision Magazine]

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Rav Yehuda HaKohen is an organizer and educator living in northern Judea. As a leader in the Vision movement, he works to empower students and young professionals to become active participants in the current chapter of Jewish history.