Lazer Gurkow

G-d Is Knocking, Answer the Call

Moses appointed twelve emissaries to scout out the Holy Land and return with a report. The representative for the tribe of Ephraim was Moses’ primary disciple, Joshua. Until this time, the lad’s name was Oshua. But Moses added a letter to his name and called him Joshua.

Rashi, the famed eleventh century biblical commentator, explained that Moses added the Hebrew letter yud to Joshua’s name because it is the first letter of G-d’s name. Fearing that the other spies might conspire against Israel, Moses prayed that G-d shield Joshua from the conspiracy of the spies. In his commentary, Yonatan ben Uziel noted that Moses offered this prayer upon observing Joshua’s humility.

This raises two questions. (A) The men appointed by Moses were all righteous. Why did Moses suspect them of conspiring against Israel? (B) Why did Moses fear his student would join the conspiracy? On the contrary, if Joshua were humble and righteous, he would likely not join them.

The Men of Moses
Two chapters earlier, the Torah relates that Moses appointed seventy elders. Upon their appointment, two of the elders prophesied that Moses would perish in the desert and Joshua would lead the Jews into Israel.

Upon hearing this, many Jews, including the men Moses would later appoint to scout out the land, were seized by a terrible fear. Their love and devotion to Moses was indescribable. When they saw Moses nonchalantly preparing for their entry to Israel, they balked. Come what may, we will not allow our beloved teacher to perish, they silently pledged. We would rather suffer terrible punishment for bringing back a negative report about Israel than return with a report that would hasten the passing of our dear teacher. Such was their love and devotion to their leader. Moses noted this.

Humble Joshua
Another event followed. When the two elders prophesied, Joshua rushed into Moses’ tent and cried, “My master, Moses, arrest them.” Moses discerned that Joshua did not want to succeed him. He preferred that Moses remain alive and he remain the student. Such was the humility of his loyal disciple.

Moses noted the reactions of the ten men and that of Joshua. He feared that their righteous devotion to him might motivate them to conspire against entering Israel and that Joshua’s humility might make him amenable to the conspiracy. Under ordinary circumstances, Joshua would never defy G-d’s instructions, but under these circumstances, he might. Ironically, his humility could drive him to join the conspiracy.

Moses, therefore, prayed that G-d shield Joshua from the conspiracy. Yes, he would naturally empathize with their motive, but Moses prayed that he overcome this empathy and do G-d’s bidding. Appending the first letter of G-d’s name to Joshua’s name reminded Joshua to always respond when G-d comes knocking. Even if it is inconvenient or you have reason to refuse, never turn your back on G-d.

My Beloved Is Knocking
King Solomon (Song of Songs 5) describes a woman lying in her bed. “I am asleep, but my heart is awake. My beloved is knocking: ‘Open for me, my sister, my beloved, my dove, my perfect one, for my head is full of dew, my locks with the drops of the night.’”

The evocative saga of Jewish history is echoed in this verse. Our beloved G-d knocks on the door. Do we leap from bed to greet our beloved Who pines for us? Sometimes, the answer is sadly no. King Solomon continues, “I have removed my tunic; how can I put it on? I have bathed my feet; how can I soil them?” I am cozy in bed, and it is drafty outside, I am too lazy to climb from bed and open the door. I washed my feet; how can I soil them. I know you yearn for me, but I am too cozy and comfortable to respond.

G-d steps away with a heavy, defeated heart. He loves us, but we refuse Him. He comes knocking but we fail to open the door. As G-d steps away, our lives fall apart. Tragedy befalls us, disaster visits us, life crumbles around us. And finally, our hearts begin to stir. In the words of King Solomon, “My beloved removed his hand from the [key] hole, and my insides stirred because of him.”

We leap from bed and streak across the night looking for Him. When tragedy strikes, we call for G-d and wonder why and where He is hiding. Yet, when He knocks, we are too lazy to respond. King Solomon describes a woman running through the night and calling for her beloved, yet the guards beat her and berate her because they mistake her for a criminal in the night.

Jewish History
The commentaries point to various eras in Jewish history when this occurred. Rashi thought this described the end of the first Temple era when idol worship was rampant in Israel. We were like a cheating spouse who refused to answer her husband at the door. I have removed my tunic, I have learned idolatrous ways, how can I return to you? G-d came knocking and most Jews refused the call.

Rabbi Yosef Kimchi thought King Solomon was referring to the Jews of Babylon and Persia who when granted permission, refused to return to Israel and rebuild the Temple. I have removed my tunic, they claimed, we are too poor and downtrodden; how can we engage in nation building? We can barely pay our bills; how can we relocate and assume a vast building project in Jerusalem? G-d came knocking, but many Jews refused the call. Only a handful of Jews responded and returned to Israel.

In 1956, Rabbi Yosef Ber Soloveichik penned his famous treatise, kol dodi dofek, the voice of my beloved is knocking. He applied King Solomon’s words to our times in a stirring reflection on American Jewry’s failure to respond to the call. G-d came knocking when He provided us with a homeland so soon after the Holocaust, and we did not do enough. In 1956, Israel faced danger from President Nasser of Egypt, and Rabbi Soloveichik charged that G-d had come knocking and we were asleep.

October 7
After the Simchat Torah massacre, the Jewish heart was not just awake but aflame. We neither slept nor slumbered. We awoke like a lion to roar our pain in unison and to push back against our enemies.

It has been a long painful road since then and today, our wall of unity threatens to splinter once again. Let’s remember that G-d is knocking and answer His call. Let’s not succumb to silly pettiness. Let’s rise to the occasion. History will judge us. What we do on this day, will have historic implications.

Let us retain our unity with a single-minded focus on a resounding victory that will secure our people in our land. Let’s support our army against the forces of terror. Let’s support our soldiers in their time of need. Let’s stand shoulder to shoulder and eschew political games. Now is not the time to splinter our unity.  Now is the time to journey forward shoulder to shoulder.

Our antisemitic neighbors are knocking down our doors with false charges of genocide and cruel labels of Nazism. But they are not the only ones knocking. G-d is also knocking. Let’s not opt for the path of least resistance. Our brethren need us. Our father summons us. Let’s heed His call.

Let’s heed the lesson Moses imparted to Joshua. When G-d is knocking, answer the call.

About the Author
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, a renowned lecturer, serves as Rabbi to Congregation Beth Tefilah in London Ontario. He is a member of the curriculum development team at Rohr Jewish Learning Institute and is the author of two books and nearly a thousand online essays. You can find his work at
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