Message for Today
Be strong and of good courage — Then and Now
HaRav Dov Begon – Head of Machon Meir
G-d says, “Be strong and of good courage” to Joshua three times: “Be strong and of good courage, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Be but strong and of good courage, and keep all the Torah which Moses My servant commanded you…. Have I not commanded you, ‘Be strong and of good courage, be neither afraid nor dismayed’?” (Joshua 1:6-7,9).
Rashi comments: The first occurrence of this expression calls upon Joshua to tend to Israel’s material needs, the second calls upon him to study Torah and to teach it to the Jewish People, and the third calls upon him to be courageous and not to fear warfare.
Indeed, three main tasks faced the generation of Joshua son of Nun. The first was to support themselves materially by means of physical labor and a healthy economy, since the manna had ceased to fall from heaven. The second was to strengthen public Torah learning since Moses, their spiritual and political leader, had passed away. The third was to go to war and to conquer the Land and defend it against Israel’s enemies.
These three tasks demand “strength” and “courage.” Rabbi Elijah of Vilna comments that these two words refer to “physical strength and spiritual courage,” since these are things that do not come for free, but through effort, exertion and constant strengthening of one’s self.
Yet of the three subjects mentioned above, only the third was explicitly stated to Joshua as a command: “Have I not commanded you, ‘Be strong and of good courage, be neither afraid nor dismayed’?” In war situations, strength and courage are preconditions to victory.
Today, the situation of our own generation very much resembles that of Joshua’s generation. Just as then the Jews were arriving after hundreds of years of exile in Egypt, so too are we gathering together into our land following two thousand years of exile. Following the Egyptian exile, the Jews had to get used to a healthy, organized economy after forty years in which they ate food from heaven. We as well, as a nation possessing its own state, have to develop our economy to be independent and healthy. In Joshua’s generation part of the Torah was forgotten due to the death of Moses, and Joshua had to strengthen Torah learning among the people. In our own generation as well we very much need to strengthen Torah learning. We have to strengthen our identity as Jews and strengthen our spirits.
Joshua’s generation fought to conquer and take hold of the Land, and our generation as well is fighting to establish an independent state in Eretz Yisrael, and even today is fighting for that state’s existence.
And just as G-d specifically commanded Joshua not to fear the tribulations of war, but quite the contrary, to make himself all the more strong and courageous for it, so are we especially commanded not to fear the war threats of our enemies. Quite the contrary, we must strengthen ourselves militarily and, to no less of an extent, we must become spiritually more courageous.
Moreover, just as the Hasmoneans who believed in the justness of their war against the Greeks who had come to snuff out the light of the world, were courageous and raised up the banner of rebellion, and achieved a great victory, so must we do the same. Our war is a war of the children of light against the children of darkness.
We have to be strong and courageous, and with the help of G-d, “a King who assists, delivers and defends” (Shemoneh Esreh), we will defeat our enemies, for “the Eternal One of Israel does not lie” (I Samuel 15:29).