Judaism is all about being spiritual, seeking holiness, looking towards heaven. Or is it? True, Judaism includes these ideas. But the thrust of Jewish teaching is not away from the world, towards heaven. Rather it is focused on this world, and the task to make our complicated, problematical world a "dwelling" for the Divine.

The difference between these two directions in religious life is seen in our Torah reading ("Shelach" - Numbers 13-15) which tells the story of the Twelve Spies. They went to explore the Promised Land and ten of them came back with a very negative report: we will never be able to conquer it, they said. Only Joshua and Caleb disagreed.

Chassidic teachings tell us that the ten Spies were very spiritual people who did not want to face ordinary life as farmers in the Land of Israel. They loved being in the desert, close to the Sanctuary and the Divine Presence, eating Manna. They chose a spiritual path which leads away from normal life. Joshua and Caleb, by contrast, recognized the virtue of being in the world, farming land, buying and selling, being a normal human being - and yet at the same time incorporating a healthy relationship with G‑d in all that one does, as guided by the Torah.

Before they went, the Torah tells us that Moses changed Joshua's name. Instead of being called Hoshea, as previously, he was now to be Joshua, the name by which we remember him today.1

This meant adding the letter Yud to his name, and Rashi comments that this turns the beginning of his name into something like G‑d's name. So "Joshua" can be understood to mean: "G‑d will save". Rashi says this expresses Moses' prayer concerning Joshua: "May G‑d save you from following the path of the other Spies".

Why should Moses be so concerned particularly about Joshua?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that the point here is that a leader has to focus on the people in the world. There are spiritual people who can look heavenward and, perhaps, they achieve genuine holiness. (In fact the Talmud says many strive for this otherworldly path, but few attain it2). A leader, however, has to sacrifice such purely spiritual yearnings for the sake of his central task: to guide and help others, to be with them in their worldly situation.

Moses knew that Joshua was destined to be his successor.3 He knew that Joshua would be the leader of the Jewish people, and therefore it was doubly important that he should not follow the path of the other Spies which leads away from the world. Hence he changed his name, to make sure he would remain focused on the infinite spiritual potential in this world.4

In fact, Chassidic teachings explain that the possibilities of discovering the Essence of the Divine are greater in our physical world than in ethereal spiritual realms. That is the paradox of Jewish teaching: the revelation of the Divine Presence in the Temple in a real, physical Jerusalem is the true goal of Creation. Jewish leadership since Moses and Joshua, and through the generations, including the late Lubavitcher Rebbe in our own epoch, seeks to help us create that Divine Presence in our own personal lives, our homes and our communities, and ultimately in the world as a whole.