Ben-Tzion Spitz
Former Chief Rabbi of Uruguay

The Fiery Baton

The northern wind howled outside the tent. The tent sat in the middle of the camp on the eastern bank of the Jordan River. The clouds that had surrounded and protected the Israelites for forty years were gone. They disappeared months ago, following the death of Aaron, the High Priest. The raw wind and hot sand scoured the pink soft skin of the Israelite tribesmen.

Moses and Joshua were alone as usual, silent in the tent. Moses, standing upright, eyes closed, was in a deep trance yet conscious of his surroundings. He was in the midst of his communion with God. Joshua stood near the tent entrance.

Was it resignation Joshua saw on the face of Moses? At one hundred and twenty years old, Joshua’s master was still a physically impressive presence. His aura was overwhelming. Joshua had served him with unyielding dedication for forty years. He had learned to interpret the minutest facial expressions to get an insight into his master’s thoughts.

No. It wasn’t resignation; it was a sad determination. Moses intended to fulfill God’s will to the last instruction, fully aware of all the disappointments and failures of the last forty years.

“It is you.” Moses opened his eyes and with an indecipherable face turned to Joshua. “You shall lead them into Canaan.”

“I am honored, my master,” Joshua bowed. “But perhaps there are others more qualified?”

“It is your destiny.” Moses smiled as if remembering an old tale.

“But what about Elazar or Pinhas? They are of your family and already priests of God.”

“No,” Moses said and slashed the air with his hand. “Priesthood and kingship can never be shared. It is a disastrous combination.” Moses closed his eyes with a pained look.

“What about Caleb? Caleb has the blood of kings in his veins. He is a natural leader and a master strategist. He would be excellent.”

“Caleb is a great man,” Moses nodded, “and he will be of immense value to you, but it is you Joshua, you and only you who will lead the Children of Israel into the Promised Land.”

“I have always been your assistant. How can I now lead?”

“Enough!” Moses roared. “You would deny God’s wishes in this?”

“I serve and obey.” Joshua’s body shook for a moment as he bowed again to Moses.

“I know your fear and your hesitancy. I resisted this burden more determinedly than you. But you must be strong and valiant. God has chosen you by name and He shall be with you as He has been with me.”

“Am I not right to fear?” Joshua asked. “I have been next to you through all the travails. The battle with Amalek, where you were barely able to stand on your own. I was with you when the burden of leadership was so heavy you begged for death. I was with you at each rebellion, when God repeatedly desired to wipe us out. And it was only you, my master, you who stood up to the Almighty. You who spoke with God face to face as no mortal has and no mortal will. How can I hope to take your mantle? To take this fiery baton from you.”

“Just as God helped me defeat Og and Sichon, so will He help you defeat the kings of Canaan. Just as we have set out tribal allotments for Reuven, Gad and Menashe on the east of the Jordan, so will you succeed in allotting the rest of the tribes in Canaan.”

“But you are able to speak with God. I am not.”

“The era of Instruction shall indeed end with me. But you will begin the epoch of Prophecy.”

“God shall speak to me?”

“When He needs to.”

“What if I fail?”

“Success and failure are in the hands of God. We can only strive. Strive with all our might, but the striving does not ensure success. You will do a good job, Joshua.” Moses closed his eyes. “I see you defeating the Canaanite kings and setting the borders of the tribes. There will remain pockets of resistance. The whole land will not be conquered in your day. No, that will only occur long in the future. But the Children of Israel shall follow God all the days of your life.”

“You comfort me, my teacher.”

“Let me do more than comfort you. Let me show you. Take my arm.”

Joshua clasped the right forearm of Moses. Moses’ hand wrapped around Joshua’s forearm. They both closed their eyes.

Joshua saw images flash across his closed eyelids. The walls of a fortified city tumbling down. Giants slain by Caleb. An entire platoon of soldiers abandoning a fortified city and caught by an Israelite ambush. King after king and city after city falling to the Israelite onslaught. The lords of Canaan fell before the Israelite tribes like wheat under the scythe.

Moses let go of Joshua’s forearm. Their eyelids fluttered open.

“You will do well, Joshua. Remain strong and valiant and you will succeed. Are you ready?” Moses asked, looking deep within Joshua’s eyes for a hint of any weakness, any hesitancy; any clue that Joshua was less than God’s new chosen leader.

But Joshua’s eyes reflected the steely resolve that Moses knew was there all along.

“I am ready.”

* * * * * *

Biblical Sources:

Deuteronomy Chapter 31

1 And Moses went and spoke these words unto all Israel. 2 And he said unto them: ‘I am a hundred and twenty years old this day; I can no more go out and come in; and the Lord hath said unto me: Thou shalt not go over this Jordan. 3 The Lord thy God, He will go over before thee; He will destroy these nations from before thee, and thou shalt dispossess them; and Joshua, he shall go over before thee, as the Lord hath spoken. 4 And the Lord will do unto them as He did to Sihon and to Og, the kings of the Amorites, and unto their land; whom He destroyed. 5 And the Lord will deliver them up before you, and ye shall do unto them according unto all the commandment which I have commanded you. 6 Be strong and of good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them; for the Lord thy God, He it is that doth go with thee; He will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.’ 7 And Moses called unto Joshua, and said unto him in the sight of all Israel: ‘Be strong and of good courage; for thou shalt go with this people into the land which the Lord hath sworn unto their fathers to give them; and thou shalt cause them to inherit it. 8 And the Lord, He it is that doth go before thee; He will be with thee, He will not fail thee, neither forsake thee; fear not, neither be dismayed.’


Joshua’s resistance and hesitancy to the appointment mirrors that of Moses himself and God’s anger in the beginning of Exodus.

The objection of Moses against handing leadership to priests relates to that eventual occurrence in the Hasmonean dynasty where the priestly line also took over kingship with disastrous results.

Caleb is of the Judean royal tribe and we do see more of him down the line.

About the Author
Ben-Tzion Spitz is the former Chief Rabbi of Uruguay. He is the author of six books of Biblical Fiction and hundreds of articles and stories dealing with biblical themes. He is the publisher of Torah.Works, a website dedicated to the exploration of classic Jewish texts, as well as TweetYomi, which publishes daily Torah tweets on Parsha, Mishna, Daf, Rambam, Halacha, Tanya and Emuna. Ben-Tzion is a graduate of Yeshiva University and received his Master’s in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University.