The Torah in Parashat Shelach tells the tragic story of the sin of the spies, and we read that before the twelve men were sent to survey the Land of Israel, Moshe changed the name of one of them – his closest disciple, Yehoshua. Previously, Yehoshua’s name had been “Hoshea,” but now Moshe changed his name to “Yehoshua” (13:16). Rashi, based on the Gemara (Sota 34:2), famously explains that the name “Yehoshua” represents Moshe’s prayer for Yehoshua at that time (“Y-a-h yoshi’akha”) that he should be protected from the negative influence of the other spies, who schemed to convince Benei Yisrael to refuse to enter the land.
This explanation of the name change appears also in Targum Yonatan ben Uziel, which says that Moshe “saw Yehoshua’s humility,” and this prompted him to offer a prayer on Yehoshua’s behalf.
Targum Yonatan’s comments are commonly understood to mean that Yehoshua’s humility made him susceptible to the pressure exerted by the scouts. Moshe feared that Yehoshua lacked the boldness and self-confidence needed to resist and oppose the majority, and so Moshe found it necessary to pray for Yehoshua’s protection.
A much different, and very creative, explanation is offered by Rav Yisrael of Kozhnitz, in Avodat Yisrael. He suggests that Targum Yonatan refers here not to Yehoshua’s general humility – but to his boundless loyalty to Moshe. Earlier (11:28), we read of Yehoshua’s angry reaction upon hearing that Eldad and Meidad were giving prophecy, and Rashi, citing the Sifrei, explains that Yehoshua protested because Eldad and Meidad proclaimed, “Moshe will die and Yehoshua will bring Israel into the land.” Yehoshua had no desire for leadership, as his only wish was to remain in Moshe’s presence and under his guidance and tutelage, and so he angrily objected to Eldad and Meidad’s prediction. Thus, the Maggid of Kozhnitz suggests, Moshe feared that Yehoshua – who had heard of Eldad and Meidad’s prophecy – might have been tempted to join his fellow scouts in attempting to dissuade the people from proceeding into the land. Yehoshua knew that he was destined to take the reins of leadership from Moshe once the people entered the land, and so, in his great humility, he might have wanted to extend the nation’s sojourn in the wilderness, rather than proceed immediately into the land as God wanted. This, according to the Maggid of Kozhnitz, is why Moshe found it necessary to pray for Yehoshua.
Whether or not this is indeed Targum Yonatan’s intent, the Maggid’s interpretation becomes particularly meaningful in light of the famous theory advanced by the Zohar (Shelach, 158a), and cited by Ramchal in Mesilat Yesharim (chapter 11), in explaining the sin of the scouts. The Zohar asserted that the scouts – who were the leaders of their respective tribes – were driven by the fear that once Benei Yisrael crossed into the land, they would lose their positions of leadership. Beneath the claims of the Canaanite armies’ unparalleled might and the poor quality of the land, the scouts were in truth, according to the Zohar, motivated by purely egotistical concerns, by their desire to retain their positions of prominence.
If so, then the Maggid of Kozhnitz’s analysis of Moshe’s fears concerning Yehoshua becomes especially insightful. Whereas the other scouts were driven by the desire to maintain their positions of leadership, Yehoshua could have potentially fallen prey to his desire to avoid a position of leadership. The others lied about the land so they would continue serving as leaders, and Yehoshua – Moshe feared – could have been lured to join them for the opposite reason, so he would not fall into a position of leadership.
Just as arrogance can lead us to act wrongly for the sake of honor and prestige, so can meekness and inhibition lead us to act wrongly for the sake of avoiding honor and prestige. We must do the right thing without concern for our reputation, in either direction – without worrying about forfeiting prestige, and without worrying about forfeiting the comfort of anonymity. Sometimes we might need to sacrifice fame for the sake of our values, and sometimes we might need to bring unwanted attention to ourselves for the sake of our values. The Maggid of Kozhnitz teaches us that neither the desire for notoriety nor the fear of notoriety should lead us to compromise our principles, and that we must remain true to our values regardless of the impact this will have upon our social standing or reputation.