Joshua, the successor to Moses and conqueror of the Land of Israel, was born in the year 2406, and lived 110 years. His leadership of his people lasted for 28 years. He belonged to the tribe of Ephraim.

Joshua was the first in the line of traditional transmission of the Oral Law, receiving it direct from Moses and transmitting it to the Elders of Israel. He was also the first leader of the Jews upon their own land.

He led the Jews in the great battles against the 31 kings that ruled in the Land of Canaan, and defeated them all with G‑d's help.

The Beginning of Leadership

Joshua began his leadership after the thirty days mourning period following the death of Moses. On the 7th day of Nissan Joshua received G‑d's command to prepare the children of Israel for the crossing of the Jordan, three days later.

Before crossing the Jordan, Joshua sent an "ultimatum" to the kings of the Land of Canaan, giving them three choices: Those willing to evacuate the land could do so, and he would not pursue them; those willing to remain and make peace with Israel on such terms as not to endanger the spiritual and religious life of the Jews, would receive his peace terms; finally, those desiring nothing but war, would be fought in the name of G‑d who had promised the land to Abraham for his children for ever.

Of the different tribes that inhabited the Land of Canaan at that time, only one chose to leave peacefully and another asked for peace. The remaining 31 kingdoms prepared for battle.

The Spies: Joshua selected two brave and faithful men, Caleb and Pinchas, to cross the Jordan and find out what the feeling across the Jordan was with regard to the impending war.

Joshua and the Spies

disguised as potters, crossed the Jordan and reached Jericho, the first fortified city on the other side of the Jordan. Right in the wall of the city was built a house in which there lived a woman called Rahab. She was an innkeeper and a woman of renown in whose inn the nobles of Jericho frequently met.

The king of Jericho received news of the arrival of two spies sent by Joshua, and he sent word to Rahab to have them delivered to his soldiers. Being a woman of character and honesty who considered her duty to protect her guests at all costs, Rahab hid them among the stalks of flax on her roof. She told the king's messengers that two strangers did come to her inn, but they looked like potters and sold earthenware. Nobody took any notice of them, and before the gates of the city were to be closed they left.

Having disposed of the king's messengers, Rahab went up to the roof and told Caleb and Pinchas that all the inhabitants of the land were in terror of the children of Israel, having heard of the miraculous way they defeated the mighty kings of Sihon and Og. "And as soon as we had heard it, our hearts did melt, and there did not remain any more spirit in any man, because of you; for G‑d your G‑d, He is G‑d in heaven above and on earth beneath!" she told them honestly and sincerely. Then Rahab begged them that just as she had saved their lives, so should her life and the lives of the members of her family be saved when Jericho should fall into the hands of the children of Israel as fall it surely must.

The spies promised it to her on oath. Rahab let them down by a rope through the window which was overlooking the plain of Jericho outside the city walls. After hiding on the way for three days the spies reached the camp of Israel safely and reported on their mission, which brought great cheer to all the children of Israel.

Art by Yoram Raanan
Art by Yoram Raanan

Crossing of the Jordan

On the 10th day of Nissan the children of Israel crossed the Jordan. First the priests, bearing the holy ark, stepped into the Jordan. The Jordan at that time of the year was deep and overflowing, but no sooner did the feet of the priests touch the water, than the water of the Jordan was divided and stood up like a huge wall, which grew higher and higher as the water streamed down from the upper Jordan. The bed of the river was dry and the children of Israel crossed it comfortably. When the last Jew was already on the other bank of the river, the priests came out too, and the Jordan returned to its natural state.

Joshua's Prayers in Gilgal

The place where the Jews encamped on the western bank of the Jordan was named Gilgal, and Joshua erected there a monument of twelve stones taken from the bed of the Jordan to commemorate the great miracle of the crossing. Here also they erected the Mishkan which remained there during the entire 14 years of the conquest and partition of the Land of Israel.

On the 14th of Nissan they offered there the Paschal sacrifice-for the first time upon the soil of the promised land, and on the 16th day of Nissan they duly brought the 'Omer', and thereafter they ate of the produce of the land. (The manna had stopped on the day of Moses' death on Adar 7th, but their last portion lasted them until the 16th of Nissan).

Here in Gilgal an angel of G‑d appeared before Joshua bringing him a message of good cheer and courage, but at the same time rebuked him for the neglect of the study of the Torah during the siege of Jericho. Even when a Jew is on a journey, or on the path of war, he must always avail himself of every free minute for prayer and worship and for the study of the Torah. Joshua fell on his face to the ground and prayed, and immediately set out to call upon his people to study the Torah more and harder.

And on every fast day, when we say Selichoth and pray for G‑d's forgiveness and mercy, we mention that solemn occasion in the Gilgal when Joshua's prayers were accepted, praying, "He who answered Joshua in Gilgal may answer us...

Joshua's Farewell

When Joshua felt that his task was well nigh done, and he was about to part from his beloved people, he gathered around him the Elders of Israel, the Sanhedrin and chieftains of each tribe, and gave them his last advice and instructions with regard to the leadership of Israel, which they were to assume after him.

Then he called a great national assembly in Shechem to bid farewell to his beloved people. He recounted to them the whole history of Israel from the days of Abraham, and urged them to remain firm in their allegiance to G‑d and to the Torah. Among his final words were these: "Choose you this day whom you will serve, as for me and my house, we will serve G‑d!"

And all the people answered unhesitatingly: "G‑d forbid that we should forsake G‑d! We shall forever remain faithful to our G‑d and our Torah!"

Then Joshua made a covenant with the people, and set up a huge stone as a monument and witness of the Jews' firm determination to serve G‑d and observe the Torah and commandments. This took place in the year 2516, on the 26th year of Joshua's leadership, and two years later, at the age of 110 Joshua died and was buried in his own estate in Timnath-Serach, in mount Ephraim.