Did you ever notice that Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur are in the wrong order? Rosh HaShannah is a day on which we look to the future, promising Hashem that we can be the righteous people that He wants us to be. Along those lines, we ask Hashem to give us a new year of health, happiness and blessing which will make it more conducive for us to do what He wants. On the other hand, Yom Kippur is a day on which we focus more on our past year and ask Hashem to forgive us for anything that we did which distracted us from becoming the kind of people that He wants us to be. When you think about it, shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t we first ask forgiveness for the past year and THEN promise Hashem to be good in the new year? Unless of course there is a lesson to be gleaned from this particular order.
In Parshat Haazinu, the leadership reins are given over to Yehoshua as Moshe prepares to die. Interestingly, when referring to Yehoshua the Torah calls him by his old name Hosea, as it says (32:44) “And Moshe came and spoke all these words to the nation, him and Hosea, son of Nun.” If you remember, back in Parshat Shelach, before Hosea went with the other 11 spies to check out the Land of Israel, Moshe added a Hebrew letter “Yud” to Hosea’s name, thus changing it to Yehoshua. The reason for this was that Moshe suspected that 10 of the other 11 spies had bad intentions, so he added a Yud (representing Hashem) to Hosea’s name so that Hashem would keep him from joining with the other spies. If that’s so, why is Yehoshua referred to as Hosea in Parshat Haazinu?
The commentaries have various answers for this. R. Avraham Eben Ezra says that Hosea was the name that most of Israel was familiar with, as opposed to Yehoshua which was an emergency name given to him only because of his potential involvement with the spies. In a similar vein, Kli Yakar says that Moshe gave Yehoshua this name ONLY for the purposes of Hashem saving him from the plan of the spies. According to Kli Yakar, the name Yehoshua was to be used as a prayer for as long as people from that generation were alive, so that the salvation of Hashem would continue. Once that generation died out, there was no need for the name Yeshoshua and thus his name reverted back to Hosea. Another opinion from the Gemarra (Ketuvot, 103) says that the Yud given to Hosea was taken from Sarah’s name when her name was changed from Sarai, a year before she gave birth to Yitzchak. We know that Sarah gave birth to Yitzchak at the age of 90, which means that her name was changed at 89. We also know that Sarah died at the age of 127. This means that Sarah gave up her Yud for 38 years. Yehoshua had the Yud added to his name at the incident of the spies, which took place in the second year after the Jews left Egypt. The Jews traveled in the desert for 40 years before they entered the Land of Israel. This means that Yeshoshua had the letter Yud for 38 years–the exact amount of time that Sarah didn’t. Now that the 38 years were up, Yehoshua’s name reverted back to Hosea.
As interesting as those answers are, they leave a bit to be desired because in the very next parsha (V’zot HaBracha) after Moshe dies, the Torah tells us that the one to take over is YEHOSHUA, not Hosea. According to Kli Yakar and the Gemarra in Ketuvot, this should not be the case. In addition, in last week’s parsha when Moshe addressed all of the Jews it says (31:3) “And Yehoshua will pass over the Jordan with you.” It’s safe to assume that anyone hearing this who did not yet know who Yehoshua was, would quickly find out since he was to be the next leader. That makes Eben Ezra’s answer seem less than satisfying as well. So why is the name Hosea used in Parshat Haazinu?
The Mishnah (Oral Tradition) in Keilim (17:13) discusses an incident in which the Rabbis found an amphibious animal called the “Kelev Yam–Sea Dog”. In accordance with the laws of purity, the Rabbis had to determine whether this was a land animal or a sea animal (because the laws are different regarding each). So the Rabbis took the animal to the water’s edge and began to make loud sounds in order to scare it. When the animal heard the noise it moved more inland, thus the Rabbis understood that it was a land animal. As to why the Rabbis tested the animal in this way, there is a general rule which says that creatures instinctively return to their origins (i.e. where they feel comfortable) in time of danger.
Perhaps Yehoshua was a bit intimidated at what was happening now. After all, Moshe–his teacher, role model and father figure for so many years, was about to die. In addition, Yehoshua had to take on something which even Moshe had trouble and heart-ache from all these years–namely leading the Jewish people. Perhaps this made Yehoshua want to go back to his origin where he felt comfortable, namely to the name Hosea which represented the private side of him–the man who was not very well known and who was not a leader. Perhaps the reason why the Torah uses the name Hosea now is as a “last time” event –i.e. to put that name to rest for good. Yehoshua had to realize that he was no longer the private individual Hosea. He was now the leader of the Jewish nation. Essentially, Hashem was telling Yehoshua, “You can’t go back to being Hosea no matter how comfortable it may feel. You have to go forward and be Yehoshua–the man who has the strength of Hashem behind him to lead the Jewish people.”
The most difficult thing for any human being is change–specifically to change a behavior that one is comfortable with. Change is scary and difficult and takes a lot of effort. It’s much more comfortable to stay in the same rut that one is used to because there are no surprises. We know how to do it and we even become good at doing it, so why change? Along comes Rosh HaShannah–a day on which we promise Hashem that we can change and become the type of people that He wants us to be. Then between Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur we have the intermediary days in which we begin practicing that new behavior. On Yom Kippur, we look back at the intermediary days and realize how tough they were and how much tougher it will be to keep that new behavior up for the REST OF THE YEAR! So we say to ourselves, “You know what? Change is over-rated. Let me go back to who I was before all my promises. It’s less scary and much easier that way.” But the message of Yom Kippur is that we cannot go back to the people who we were in the past year–no matter how comfortable it may have been. We have to keep moving forward and changing ourselves to further enhance our relationship with Hashem. In that merit, Hashem will grant us the safety and security of a happy and healthy new year.
Shabbat Shalom and have a meaningful fast,