Be Quiet, Sun!

Yehoshua’s Merit in the Valley of Ayalon

What does the prophecy of Eldad and Meidad have to do with Yehoshua bin Nun telling the sun to be silent?

This past Tuesday, the 3rd of Tammuz, was the anniversary of a decisive and strategically important victory for Yehoshua and B’nei Yisrael as part of their southern campaign to conquer Eretz Yisrael. After Yisrael had destroyed Yericho and Ai, all of the local Canaanite kings formed an alliance to fight against Yehoshua and against Yisrael. All, that is, except one. The city-state of Givon refused to join the alliance and instead came up with their own plan. In order to spare themselves from what they figured was certain annihilation, they devised a ruse and tricked Yehoshua into making a peace treaty with them.

A number of Canaanite kings considered the Givonites’ conduct a dangerous betrayal of the ‘From the River to the Sea, Canaan shall be Free’ chant, the echos of which still reverberate throughout the world to this day. Therefore, wanting to make an example of the Givonites that would act to deter other Canaanite city-states from following in their footsteps, a powerful alliance of five Canaanite kings attacked Givon. Under the terms of the recently signed peace treaty, the Givonites hurriedly sent word to Yehoshua to come with his army, which was encamped at Gilgal along the Yarden River, and fight on their behalf against the army of the five kings. Honoring the peace treaty, Yehoshua rushed up from the Yarden during the night and won a decisive victory the following day, the 3rd of Tammuz. The army of the five kings was completely routed. (You can read the full story in Yehoshua 9-10.)

Now, we’ll bring down part of the story with which we are all familiar (Yehoshua 10:12-13): אָז יְדַבֵּר יְהוֹשֻׁעַ לַייָ בְּיוֹם תֵּת יְיָ אֶת־הָאֱמֹרִי לִפְנֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיֹּאמֶר לְעֵינֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל שֶׁמֶשׁ בְּגִבְעוֹן דּוֹם וְיָרֵחַ בְּעֵמֶק אַיָּלוֹן: וַיִּדֹּם הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ וְיָרֵחַ עָמָד עַד־יִקֹּם גּוֹי אֹיְבָיו הֲלֹא־הִיא כְתוּבָה עַל־סֵפֶר הַיָּשָׁר וַיַּעֲמֹד הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ בַּחֲצִי הַשָּׁמַיִם וְלֹא־אָץ לָבוֹא כְּיוֹם תָּמִים (Then Yehoshua spoke to Hashem on the day that Hashem gave over the Emorites to B’nei Yisrael, and he said in the presence of Yisrael, ‘Sun, in Givon, be silent [דּוֹם, dom]; and moon, in the Valley of Ayalon.’ And the sun went silent [וַיִּדֹּם, vayidom], and the moon stood still until the nation had wrought vengeance against its enemies. Isn’t this written about in the Book of the Upright? And the sun stood still in the middle of the sky and did not hasten to set like a whole day). Without a doubt, one could ask numerous questions on these two strange pesukim; nevertheless, we’ll bring up only one issue. In v.12, why did Yehoshua tell the sun to be silent? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to have told it to stop moving? After all, it is stated explicitly in v.13 that the sun did, in fact, stand still in the middle of the sky and wasn’t in any particular hurry to set that day.

Let’s start with the first word of v.12, אָז [az, then]. Why does the pasuk need to tell us az? It seems unnecessary. The pasuk could have started in a more conventional way by merely saying וַיְדַבֵּר [vaydaber, ‘and he said’]. Noticing that the Song of the Sea begins with the word az (Shemot 15:1) – אָז יָשִׁיר מֹשֶׁה וּבְנִי יִשְׂרָאֵל (Az Moshe and B’nei Yisrael sang…) – the Zohar ha-Kadosh (Beshelach 54a) comments: רִבִּי אַבָּא פָּתַח וְאָמַר, אִסְתַּכַּלְנָא בְּכָל תּוּשְׁבְּחָן דְּשַׁבְּחוּ לְקוּדְשָׁא בְּרִיךְ הוּא וְכוּלָּם פָּתְחוּ בְּאָז: (מלכים א ח׳:י״ב) אָז אָמַר שְׁלֹמֹה, (יהושע י׳:י״ב) אָז יְדַבֵּר יְהוֹשֻׁעַ, (במדבר כ״א:י״ז) אָז יָשִׁיר יִשְׂרָאֵל (R’ Abba opened and said, I looked at all the praises that they [Yisrael] offered in praise to the Holy One, blessed be He, and all of them start with az: Az Shlomo said… [Melachim Aleph 8:12], Az Yehoshua said… [Yehoshua 10:12], Az Yisrael sang… [Bamidbar 21:17]). R’ Abba goes on to explain the reason for this (which is beyond the scope of this study), but the implication is clear. Comparing all of these instances to the Song of the Sea indicates that they were all incidences of shirah!

Further, the Zohar Chadash states explicitly that Yehoshua heard the Song of the Sun (Bereshit 19b): וְלָא הֲוָה בַּר נָשׁ דִּשְׁמַע לֵיהּ בַּר מִמּשֶׁה דְּהֲוָה מְהֵימָן מַלְכָּא וִיהוֹשֻׁעַ דִּמְשַׁמֵּשׁ לֵיהּ. וְכַד אִיצְטְרִיךְ לֵיהּ יְהוֹשֻׁעַ לַאֲגָחָא קְרָבָא, וַהֲוָה שְׁמַע קָל נְעִימוּתָא, וּנְהִימוּתָא דְּשִׁמְשָׁא, לָא יָכֵיל לֵיהּ לְמִיסְבַּל. מַה כְּתִיב? וַיֹּאמֶר לְעֵינֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל שֶׁמֶשׁ בְּגִבְעוֹן דּוֹם. מַאי דּוֹם? דּוֹם מִלּוֹמַר שִׁירָה (And no human could hear this [Song of the Sun] except Moshe, for he was faithful to the King, and Yehoshua, who served him. And when Yehoshua needed to make war [against the Canaanites], and he heard the pleasant voice and roaring of the sun, and he couldn’t bear it. What is written? ‘And he said in the presence of Yisrael, Sun, in Givon, be silent [dom]. What is the meaning of dom? Dom from saying shirah).

If you don’t happen to accept the authority of the Zohar, then let’s look at Rashi, for he confirms all of this and adds even more detail: אָמַר שִׁירָה תַּחַת הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ לְפִי שֶׁאָמַר לַשֶּׁמֶשׁ דּוֹם, דּוֹם מִלּוֹמַר שִׁירָה וְכָל זְמַן שֶׁהוּא דּוֹמֵם עוֹמֵד וְאֵינוֹ מְהַלֵּךְ שֶׁבְּכָל עֵת הִילּוּכוֹ הוּא אוֹמֵר שִׁירָה (He [Yehoshua] said a song [shirah] instead of the sun, because he said to the sun ‘dom’, dom from saying shirah, and the whole time it was silent, it stood still and didn’t continue [in its path], for every moment when it moves [in the sky] it says shirah).

So, the real battle was a battle of who would say shirah. Yehoshua’s goal wasn’t to stop the sun from moving in the sky per se. Although that did, in fact, take place, it was merely a consequence of the sun ceasing its song. Rather, Yehoshua’s main intent was to stop the sun from singing shirah because he couldn’t bear listening to it.

We learned above that there have been only two people who have ever heard the Song of the Sun, Moshe and Yehoshua – Moshe, because he was the faithful servant of the King, and Yehoshua, because he was the faithful servant of the servant of the King. Let’s explore this a little bit to learn just how great was Yehoshua’s merit in this regard.

Earlier, when B’nei Yisrael were still wandering around the desert, before they had crossed the Yarden to enter Eretz Canaan, in response to the complaints about the manna, Moshe Rabbeinu became overwhelmed by the huge burden that he had to bear in leading the nation. As a result, Hashem told him to establish a Sanhedrin of 70 leading elders from the tribes of Yisrael. Two of the elders chosen to sit on the Sanhedrin were Eldad and Meidad, ostensibly half-brothers of Moshe, born to Yocheved and Eltzafan ben Parnach after she had been divorced by Amram (Targum Yonatan to Bamidbar 11:26). Without getting into the whole story, their appointment had become known because they began prophesying in the camp, as it says (Bamidbar 11:27): אֶלְדָּד וּמֵידָד מִתְנַבְּאִים בַּמַּחֲנֶה (Eldad and Meidad were prophesying in the camp). And what was their prophecy? In part, they prophesied the following (Sanhedrin 17a): משה מת יהושע מכניס את ישראל לארץ (Moshe will die and Yehoshua will bring Yisrael into the land). How does the Gemara know this? The word מִתְנַבְּאִים [they prophesied] is reishei teivot for משה תנוח נפשך בגן אלקים יהושע מכניס (Moshe, may your soul rest in the Garden of G-d; Yehoshua is bringing in).

It goes without saying that this was not a popular prophecy. To say that Moshe was going to die was bad enough, but then to add insult to injury, they prophesied that Yehoshua would lead the people into the Promised Land. No wonder Yehoshua’s response to this prophecy was to tell Moshe Rabbeinu to incarcerate them (Bamidbar 11:28). He knew that their words would spread like wildfire throughout the nation and this would lead to tremendous opposition against him. Therefore, when Moshe sent Yehoshua to join the eleven others who were chosen to spy out the land, we are told that he had changed his name from Hoshea to Yehoshua. Why? As Rashi says (Bamidbar 13:16): הִתְפַּלֵּל עָלָיו יָ-הּ יוֹשִׁיעֲךָ מֵעֲצַת מְרַגְּלִים (And he [Moshe] prayed for him, ‘May Y H save you from the counsel of the spies). Rashi is merely quoting from Sotah 34b where it says essentially the same thing. But what counsel? Neither the Gemara nor Rashi state what the counsel was from which he needed to be saved. Many have assumed that it was the counsel to speak ill of the land. Maybe, but if Moshe knew they were going to do this ahead of time, why did he send them? Rather, we think that it was the same kind of counsel that Yosef’s brothers had against him. If Yosef were to end up dead, then what would become of his dreams? Likewise, if Yehoshua were to end up dead, what would become of the prophecy of Eldad and Meidad? If the spies could nullify the second part of the prophecy by arranging for Yehoshua’s death, wouldn’t that imply that the first part of the prophecy would be nullified too?

Now we come to the greatness of Yehoshua bin Nun. Knowing all this ahead of time, what was his response? Did he argue with Moshe his Rebbe and plead with him not to be sent? Or rather, did he nullify his will to the will of the Tzaddik, trusting the Tzaddik with his very life? We know the account. Yehoshua said nothing, but merely went on his mission into the land, knowing that it was very possible that he would end up dead. In short, Yehoshua’s response was complete בטול [bitul, self-nullification] with silence. He would fulfill the will of the Tzaddik even if it made no logical sense to him. He lived the words of David ha-Melech (Tehillim 37:7): דּוֹם  לַייָ וְהִתְחוֹלֵל לוֹ אַל־תִּתְחַר בְּמַצְלִיחַ דַּרְכּוֹ בְּאִישׁ עֹשֶׂה מְזִמּוֹת (Be silent [dom] to Hashem and wait patiently for Him; do not compete against the one who is successful in his way, against a man who practices deceit). He was the epitome of what is taught in Yoma 23a: הַנֶּעֱלָבִין וְאֵינָן עוֹלְבִין, שׁוֹמְעִין חֶרְפָּתָן וְאֵינָן מְשִׁיבִין, עוֹשִׂין מֵאַהֲבָה וּשְׂמֵחִין בְּיִסּוּרִין, עֲלֵיהֶן הַכָּתוּב אוֹמֵר: ״וְאוֹהֲבָיו כְּצֵאת הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ בִּגְבוּרָתוֹ״ (Those who are insulted but don’t insult, who hear their disgrace but don’t respond, who act out of love and are happy in their sufferings, about them the verse says [Shofetim 5:31], ‘Those who love Him are like the going forth of the sun in its might’).

We now have all the pieces to answer our initial question, What does the prophecy of Eldad and Meidad have to do with Yehoshua bin Nun telling the sun to be silent? In the merit of Yehoshua’s silence in response to those who opposed him and accused him of wanting his Rebbe dead so he could take over and lead the nation (which was a direct outcome of the prophecy of Eldad and Meidat), he merited to be like the sun going forth in its might, and in direct middah k’neged middah fashion, he merited to tell the sun to be quiet and cease its song.

And now you know the meaning of what is written (Yehoshua 10:14): וְלֹא הָיָה כַּיּוֹם הַהוּא לְפָנָיו וְאַחֲרָיו לִשְׁמֹעַ יְיָ בְּקוֹל אִישׁ כִּי יְיָ נִלְחָם לְיִשְׂרָאֵל (And there was no day like that before it or after it that Hashem listened to the voice of a man, for Hashem made war for Yisrael). You have to admit it – this pasuk is a little bizarre. There had never been other day in the history of the world when Hashem listened to the voice of man? Really? What about Moshe Rabbeinu? Hashem listened to him lots of time. So what is this pasuk saying? Notice what Yehoshua actually said back in v.12: אָז יְדַבֵּר יְהוֹשֻׁעַ לַייָ (Then, Yehoshua spoke to Hashem…). The pasuk doesn’t say that Yehoshua prayed to Hashem. As we learned above, this word az indicates shirah. So we may understand this pasuk to be saying that Yehoshua sang to Hashem. He didn’t pray to Hashem, he sang to Hashem. And Hashem heard his song and honored the lyrics, שֶׁמֶשׁ בְּגִבְעוֹן דּוֹם (Sun, in Givon, be silent). And such a thing – that Hashem listened to the voice of a man, i.e. the song of a man, and fought a war on behalf of Yisrael as a result of that song – never happened before or afterward. Thus we learn the incredible power of the song of one who remains silent in the face of insult and disgrace and accepts everything with love.

As an interesting remez to this entire teaching, it is noteworthy that Yehoshua’s victorious battle against the army of the five Canaanite kings took place in the Valley of Ayalon [אַיָּלוֹן]. Why is this particularly noteworthy? The gematria of Eldad [אֶלְדָּד], which is 39, plus the gematria of Meidad [מֵידָד], which is 58, equals 97. So what? It just so happens that the gematria of אַיָּלוֹן is also 97.

So why did Yehoshua feel compelled to silence the sun? What was it about the Song of the Sun that he couldn’t bear? B’ezrat Hashem, we’ll address this in our next issue.

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