Shabbat Vayera 5783

As I mentioned on Rosh Hashanah, I’m engaged daily in the 929 Project, a journey through the entire Hebrew Bible, all 929 chapters of it. Today’s chapter, Joshua 13, seems especially timely on the cusp of Veterans Day. The chapter comes after a summary of the conquests of 31 kings and city-states under Joshua’s military leadership. Chapter 13 begins: “Joshua was now old, advanced in years. The LORD said to him, ‘You have grown old, you are advanced in years; and very much of the land still remains to be taken possession of'” (13:1).
Our verse is cited in a midrash that addresses the subject of premature aging. “Said Rabbi Yehoshua ben Nahmani: Four things cause a person to age ahead suddenly: Fear, anger at one’s children, an evil woman, and wars” (Tanhuma Hayyei Sarah 2). How does he know that war makes someone grow old beyond their years? He points to our verse, in which both the narrator and God describe Joshua as having aged.
On the 929 Hebrew website, Israeli educator Dr. Yachin Epstein suggests that the midrash could have chosen either of two assumptions about people who have fought in wars. One is that a veteran is clearly strong and heroic, almost ageless. The other assumption, which is the one Rabbi Yehoshua ben Nahmani accepts, is that “elderliness” is not tied to an age number, for a young person can be considered old. Epstein suggests that when God tells Joshua “You have grown old,” and while this you’ve achieved, there are still many areas you didn’t conquer, God isn’t saying that Joshua has reached mandatory retirement age. Rather, God is saying that Joshua has aged in his soul–emotionally–as a result of his war experiences, and he can’t continue to lead much longer. The toll that war takes on a solider might be immeasurable.
This is not to preclude the possibility that a veteran can be young at heart! What it does mean is that those of us who’ve never experienced combat cannot possibly know what it does to a person, no matter how many episodes of Band of Brothers or Valley of Tears we’ve watched. On this Veterans Day 2022, may we appreciate the courage of those who served, and may we treat them with the reverence due to our elders, even if they are younger.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise
Candle lighting: 4:22 PM
Torah Reading: Genesis 18:1-22:24
Haftarah: II Kings 4:1-37