The Succession of Joshua

31:1On that same day,1 Moses went and spoke the following words to all Israel.

2 He said to them, “A further reason I have assembled you today is in order to encourage you to accept Joshua as your leader, inasmuch as today he will succeed me in this capacity and I am entrusting you to his charge.2

Today I am exactly one hundred and twenty years old, for today is my birthday. Today, too, I will complete my purpose on earth, and will therefore die. The proof that I have almost completed my mission on earth is that, although I have not lost any of my physical capabilities on account of old age,3 I am nevertheless no longer allowed by God to come and go before you (i.e., lead you), for God said to me, ‘You will not cross this Jordan River, which indicates that He is about to transfer the leadership from me to Joshua.4 Further proof that my tenure as your leader has come to an end is the fact that I can no longer go and come freely, as I used to, in discoursing upon the Torah, for I am no longer able to articulate the teachings that God transmitted to me orally and which are not alluded to in the Written Torah, nor am I able to articulate my own insights. All I can articulate is whatever remains for me to transmit of the Written Torah, together with its explanation.5

3 But do not fear: even though I will not accompany you into the Promised Land, God, your God—He will still cross the river ahead of you; He will destroy these nations from before you and you will dispossess them. God will accompany you via your new leader, Joshua; he will cross the river ahead of you, as God has spoken.

Second Reading 4 God will do to them—Joshua’s opponents—as He did to my opponents, the Amorite kings, Sichon and Og, and to the people of their land, all of whom He destroyed.

5 When God delivers them before you, you must do to them in accordance with all the commandments that I have commanded you concerning them.

6 Be strong and courageous! Neither fear, nor be discouraged because of them, for God, your God—He is the one who goes with you. He will neither fail you nor forsake you.”

Third Reading (Fifth when combined) 7 Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous! Do not be daunted by the difficulties in governing the people, for you must come together with this entire people—including their elders—into the land that God swore to their forefathers to give them. The elders will assist you in running internal affairs, just as they have assisted me; consult with them and follow their advice. However, with regard to conquering the land, you must lead the people by yourself, as I previously requested and to which God agreed;6 and you must apportion it to the people by yourself as an inheritance, without consulting the elders, for in wartime there can be only one leader.7

8 And furthermore, what I just told the people applies especially to you: God—He is the one who goes before you. He will be with you. He will neither fail you nor forsake you. Do not fear and do not be daunted.”

The Torah Scroll

9 Later that day, after finishing his final address, Moses miraculously wrote down this entire, complete Torah, including the account of his own death and burial, and gave it to the priests as the representatives of the Levites, who carried the Ark of the Covenant of God, for since they would be exempt from working the land in order to be free to both officiate in the Temple and teach the Torah to the people, it was appropriate that the Torah scroll be given to them.

But when Moses did this, the rest of the people complained that since they too had been given the Torah on Mount Sinai, they should be on equal footing with the tribe of Levi, and that giving the one copy of the Torah scroll only to the Levites would enable them to claim later—when only they would be able to study it constantly—that it was given only to them to study, and that the rest of the people were merely obligated to follow its instructions. When Moses heard these complaints, he was pleased, because he had previously told the people that they must learn to appreciate God’s kindnesses so intensely that they be inspired to cling to Him out of love, and these complaints demonstrated that they indeed desired to cling to Him. Moses expressed his approval using the same words he had used earlier that day: “Until this day, God did not give you a heart to know, eyes to see, and ears to hear.”8

Moses therefore wrote twelve additional copies of the Torah,9 which he gave to all the elders of Israel as representatives of their respective tribes.10

(From another perspective, as will be seen later,11 God dictated the final eight verses of the Torah to Joshua after Moses’ death; Joshua thus completed these 13 original copies of the Torah scroll.)

The Septennial Assembly

Fourth Reading 10 Then Moses commanded the people, saying, “In connection with my previous exhortations to Joshua,12 I will now further command him to periodically exhort you collectively, in a public ceremony, regarding the study of the Torah in particular and the fulfillment of its commandments in general.13 As you know, God has commanded you to observe the sabbatical year every seven years14 in order that you break from earning your livelihood and devote yourselves exclusively to spiritual rejuvenation, principally through the study of the Torah. It is important to carry the inspiration of this year into the ensuing six years. Therefore, you must perform the following ceremony at the end of every seven years, i.e., at an appointed time during the first year of the next septennial cycle, which, because some of the laws of resting from agricultural work still apply during it, making you therefore still at least partially free from earning a livelihood, can also be considered the year of release.15

Specifically, on the night following the first day of the Festival of Sukot,

11 when all Israel comes to appear before God, your God, in the place He will choose, i.e., the Temple, you—Joshua, as their king, and likewise the kings that come after you16must read from this Torah before all Israel, loud enough so that they can hear it with their ears. Erect a platform in the Temple courtyard from which the king will read publicly from17 the beginning of the Book of Deuteronomy until the end of the first paragraph of the Shema,18 then skip to and read the second paragraph of the Shema,19 then skip to and read the passage about tithing,20 then skip to and read the second passage about deadlines for tithing,21 then skip to and read the passage about the blessings and the curses,22 then go back to and read the passage about the king.23

12 Assemble the people—the men, women, and children, and your resident aliens in your cities—the women in order that they be impressed with their obligation to hear and understand the Torah, and the men in order that they be impressed with their obligation to learn the Torah for learning’s sake; and thus they all will revere God, your God, and they will safeguard the Torah by studying its instructions regarding how to do all that is taught in the words of this Torah.

13 Their little children, who prior to this did not adequately know about the importance of religious behavior, must hear the Torah being read in this impressive ceremony and thereby learn to revere God, your God, all the days that you live on the land that you are crossing the Jordan River to possess.”

The Poem of Witness

Fifth Reading (Sixth when combined) 14 God said to Moses, “Behold, as you know,24 the end of your days are approaching; you are about to die. Summon Joshua and stand together in the Tent of Meeting, and I will encourage him.” So Moses and Joshua went and stood in the Tent of Meeting.

15 God appeared in the Tent of Meeting in a pillar of cloud. The pillar of cloud then stood above the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.

16 God said to Moses from the cloud: “Behold, you are about to lie with your forefathers, and after you do so,25 this nation will rise up and stray after the deities of the nations presently occupying the land into which they are coming. They will forsake Me and violate My covenant that I made with them.

17 My fury will rage against them on that day, for I will abandon them, and once I cease to protect them, they will fall prey to suffering; and then, I will figuratively ‘hide My face from them, acting as if I do not see their suffering, until they repent.26 They will be consumed, and many evils and misfortunes will befall them. They will say on that day, ‘Is it not because our God is no longer among us that these evils have befallen us?’

18 I will hide My face on that day because of all the evil they have committed when they turned to other deities.’

19 Addressing Moses as the representative of the entire nation, God continued, ‘So now, write for yourselves this poem that I am about to dictate to you,27 and again addressing Moses as the people’s leader, God continued, ‘and teach it to the Israelites. Place it into their mouths, in order that this poem be a witness for Me to the Israelites.

Sixth Reading (Seventh when combined) 20 When I bring them to the land that I swore to their forefathers to give them, a land flowing with milk and honey, they will eat and be satiated, and live on the fat of the land. Then, feeling they no longer need Me, they will turn to other deities and serve them, provoking Me and violating My covenant.

21 When they encounter many evils and troubles, this poem will bear witness against them, for in it I have warned them that these troubles would befall them if they forsake Me. This poem will be an effective witness because I promise that it will not be forgotten from the mouths of their offspring; they will always possess it and be able to read it, and the same will hold true for the entire Torah: it will never be forgotten by the Jewish people. This poem is necessary as a witness because I know their evil inclination, including what they are planning to do today, even before I bring them in to the land that I have sworn to give them.”

22 So Moses wrote down this poem later on that day and taught it to the Israelites.

The Investiture of Joshua

23 While they were still in the Tent of Meeting, God commanded Joshua the son of Nun from the cloud and said: “Be strong and courageous! For you will bring the Israelites to the land that I have sworn to give to them, and I will be with you. Moses enjoined you to consult with the elders and take their advice in matters relating to the internal affairs of the nation,28 but I want you to be the sole authority in these matters and not just in matters of war. Force the people, including their elders, to do what you know they must do, whether or not they agree, for you must lead in the way appropriate to your generation, even if it is not the same way Moses led his generation or thinks that you should lead yours.29

24 When Moses finished writing down the words of this Torah in a scroll, until their end,

Seventh Reading 25 Moses commanded the Levites, who carried the Ark of the Covenant of God, saying:

26 The inside cavity of the Ark is 14 handbreadths long.30 The tablets housed in the Ark are each six handbreadths square,31 so that leaves two free handbreadths in the Ark’s inner length. Take32 this Torah scroll and place it in this empty space alongside the Tablets of Testimony inside the Ark of the Covenant of God, your God, so that it remain there as a witness to you.”33

27 Addressing the people as a whole, he continued, “For I know your rebellious spirit and your stubbornness. Even while I am still alive with you today, you are rebelling against God, so you will surely rebel after my death!

Maftir 28 Assemble before me all the elders of your tribes and your officers, and I will speak these words, i.e., the words of the following poem, into their ears, and in this poem I will call upon heaven and earth—not just as signs, as I have before,34 but as actual witnesses to the covenant, to testify against them if they deny it.35

29 For I know that immediately after my death, you will surely become corrupted and deviate from the way that I had commanded you, because God has told me as much.36 Consequently, the evil will befall you at the end of days, because you did evil in the eyes of God, to provoke Him to anger through your idols, which will be nothing more than the work of your hands.” In fact, however, the people did not become corrupt until after Joshua died,37 but as far as God and Moses were concerned, Joshua’s lifetime was an extension of Moses’ own, for true teachers value their students’ lives as their own.

The Israelites assembled together with their elders as Moses requested, but they were not summoned by trumpet blasts as usual, since God had instructed Moses to only use the trumpets as a sign of his kingship over the people,38 and at this point his role as the people’s leader was passing to Joshua. Joshua, on the other hand, could not employ the trumpets to summon the people since God had told Moses that since his kingship over the people will never be matched by any other king who will reign over them, only he should use these trumpets. For these reasons, Moses had in fact already stored away the trumpets the previous day.39

30 Then, Moses spoke into the ears of the entire assembly of Israel the words of the following poem, until their completion.