“Be strong and of good courage!”
by HaRav Dov Begon
from his book on the Jewish Year “Israel Redeemed.” Traslated by Rabbi Menachem Weinberg.
God 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 battle.
Indeed, three main tasks faced the generation of Joshua. 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 do not come easily, 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. . . .” Perhaps regarding war and battle, strength and courage are preconditions to victory, hence not mere encouragement but requisite fortitude.
Our current challenges resemble 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 in our Land following two thousand years of exile. Following the Egyptian exile, the Jews had to develop a healthy, organized economy after forty years in which they ate food from heaven. We too are creating a modern state in a new global environment and 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, especially since the “enlightenment” movement in Europe, many Jews have succumbed to foreign influences and fallen away from their Jewish identity and culture. We have to strengthen our identity as Jews and strengthen our spirits, mainly through increasing Torah learning in all avenues possible.
Joshua’s generation fought to conquer and take hold of the Land, and similarly today our army, the IDF, is needed to fight for the continued survival of our state’s existence.
So we must take heed, just as God specifically commanded Joshua not to fear the tribulations of war, but rather gather more “strength and courage” for the task. We are 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 develop our personal and national courage to win the spiritual battle for the eternal soul of our nation.
Our victory, in body and spirit, will grant merit to the holy soldiers and victims of terror who showed us the way to have “strength and courage” in our continued redemption, until we will soon see the complete return of our people to our Land and to our eternal heritage. Amen.