The Spirit of Wisdom
Rabbi Reuven Mann
In recording the transition of leadership from Moshe to Joshua the Torah states (Devarim 34:9) "Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands upon him, so the Children of Israel obeyed him as Hashem had commanded Moses."
At first glance this verse seems to contain an incomprehensible idea. It is true that Joshua acquired his Torah knowledge from his Rebbe (teacher) Moshe. However, it must be assumed that this was accomplished through engagement in a learning process not some type of physical contact. Yet the pasuk emphasizes that he became wise because Moshe "placed his hands upon him". What meaning can we derive from this seemingly baffling proposition?
The entire verse must be read very carefully. It does not say that Joshua was filled with wisdom, but with the "spirit of wisdom". This is an entirely unique phenomenon. Many people acquire expertise in various fields of intellectual endeavor. However the knowledge they gain does not impact on the very core of the personality.
The distinct feature of the authentic sage of Israel is that his whole personality is affected by the love of wisdom. This is the driving force of his life, the "prime mover" of his soul. Thus he does not limit himself to one or two areas of inquiry but embraces all areas of knowledge. This is not true of the secular intellectuals one encounters in the academic world. They confine the use of reason to certain limited spheres but on the most crucial issues pertaining to one's value system, follow their instinctual impulse and live in a state of philosophical ignorance. The genuine Torah scholar (Talmid Chacham) abhors ignorance especially in matters that govern his way of life. His spirit of love for the truth motivates his approach to every activity in which he is engaged. Thus Tanach says "David was wise in all of his paths and God was with him".
The question arises: How does one obtain this unique and special "spirit of wisdom"? Judaism maintains that real Torah knowledge is not easily attained. Many years of tireless and diligent study are needed to give one the ability to penetrate to the depths of Torah. Good Rabbeyim (teachers) are necessary to provide the instruction and training essential to becoming a scholar. The Rebbe-Talmid encounter is, however, not limited to formal pedagogy. It contains an element of equal importance which is known as "shimush Talmidei Chachamim", ministering to Torah scholars. Abstract ideas can be transmitted by formal educational procedures. However the spirit which motivates the "soul" of the Rebbe is something the student gains access to in a different way. He must spend time with his Rebbe outside the classroom and observe how his love of wisdom affects every facet of behavior. The Talmud in Tractate Brachot asks (47b): Who is considered an ignoramus (Am Haaretz)? The Gemara considers various opinions and concludes as follows, " if one studied the written and oral law but did not minister to Torah scholars, he is an ignoramus. Rav Huna said the law is in accordance with this position."
We can now understand what the verse about Joshua is seeking to teach us. Of course he had obtained vast Torah knowledge and even reached the level of prophecy. However it was his possession of a "spirit of wisdom" that rendered him suitable for the role of Moshe's successor. Love of knowledge was the essence of his personality and expressed itself in every endeavor. This was not only due to his lifelong dedication to the study of Torah. It was developed and nurtured by his exposure to the personality, character, and very "soul" of his Rebbe, Moshe Rabbenu.
The placing of the Rebbe's hands on the head of the Talmid is the classic form of granting ordination (smicha). It expresses the close personal contact between Rebbe and Talmid which is a vital element of the Jewish learning experience. The students' mind and heart must be transformed by the all-embracing character of the Rebbe/Talmid relationship. Now we can understand why the Pasuk says that Joshua was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moshe has placed his hands on him. The personal relationship between the Master and the "Ministering" disciple was the vehicle through which the special ruach of Torah was transmitted.
The rest of the Pasuk now flows smoothly. It says " and the children of Israel listened to him and did as God had commanded Moshe." The Torah emphasizes that they "listened and did". On the surface this may appear redundant. However the Torah is drawing our attention to the fact that there are different levels of success in teaching Judaism. Some Rabbis are able to inspire people to listen but not necessarily to act. The ultimate goal is to communicate in a manner which motivates people to learn for the sake of living correctly. This is possible when they regard the teacher not as a storehouse of information but as a role model worth emulating. The ideal Rebbe is one whose personality reflects the attributes of humbleness, compassion and devotion to wisdom in all areas. Joshua was able to succeed Moshe because he was as studious in learning from the actions of his Rebbe as from his formal teachings. He inspired the people to "listen and do" because he was a living example of one whose behavior reflects the Derech Hashem (way of God).
This lesson has great relevance to our lives. The Rabbis' say (Pirkei Avot): "Acquire for yourself a Rav". Our obligation is not only to study Torah as an abstract discipline, but as a practical guide to the challenges of life, as well. We must therefore seek to establish close relationships with genuine Torah personalities. We need to have ongoing association with people who apply the teaching and values of Torah to the complexities of day to day life. Our goal should be to study Torah for the sake of perfection. We should strive to become Talmidei Chachamim who are imbued with the "Spirit of Wisdom".