A Prophet for Today
Contemporary Lessons from the Book of Yehoshua
By Rabbi Steven Pruzansky
Gefen Publishing House , 2006, 140 pages
This is the first book by Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, who published his second volume Judges for our Time, Contemporary Lessons from the Book of Shoftim in 2009. Rabbi Pruzansky’s goal is to demonstrate how the biblical books of Joshua and Judges, which he calls by their original Hebrew titles, have useful relevance for people today. The volume is interesting and it stimulates its readers to think.
Rabbi Pruzansky, spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun of Teaneck, New Jersey, placed a letter from Rabbi Berel Wein of Israel in the beginning of the volume. Rabbi Wein writes: "Many of the leading Rabbis of our time have warned against attempting such comparisons (of relevance). However, this is not a unanimous opinion for otherwise what is the purpose of studying Tenakh?"
Perhaps without realizing it, Rabbi Wein raises interesting questions for Rabbi Pruzansky’s readers. Does our author succeed in showing that the ancients confronted the same problems that people face in modern societies? If he does prove that the difficulties are the same, are the ancient answers to the problems solutions that modern people would want to implement? If the ancient troubles are not the same as those faced by modern people and/or the resolutions are outdated or otherwise unacceptable, is Rabbi Wein correct that there is no purpose in studying these biblical books?
Rabbi Pruzansky sees the book of Joshua, which dealt with the original conquest of the land of Israel by Joshua, the successor of Moses, containing "lessons for our own national return to the land of Israel after a long and difficult sojourn in the exile."
Rabbi Pruzansky raises a host of thought provoking questions as he analyses the biblical book. For example: Why did Joshua send spies to the land of Israel; didn’t he remember the disastrous results that followed when Moses sent spies? Why did he only send two people? Who were they? Why was the report of the two spies accepted as a viable assessment when they only visited a whore house in Canaan? Why was God’s covenant with Israel dependent upon the words of a prostitute? Why does a Midrash state that Joshua married the prostitute? Why were the Jews given a land that they needed to constantly defend, even today?
What is the difference between the splitting of the Red Sea by Moses and the splitting of the Jordan by Joshua? What was the point of Joshua meeting with an angel just before the conquest of Canaan? Did he really meet an angel? Was Jericho conquered by spiritual weapons alone? Should a modern Jew believe this? Do righteous people have the power to change the laws of nature and produce miracles?
These are just a few of the many stimulating questions that the rabbi raises.
Rabbi Pruzansky offers detailed solutions to his questions, and it really makes no difference whether readers agree with the rabbi’s answers because his answers, just as his questions, stimulate thinking and understanding, and possibly even change behavior.
It also makes no difference whether one agrees with Rabbi Pruzansky’s worldview underlying his solutions because his ideas also provoke thought and learning. The rabbi believes that God is involved in everything that occurs on earth – even today -and that He changes the laws of nature to protect people in trouble by means of miracles. He accepts Midrashim, tales that others say are fanciful parables written for teaching purposes, as recollections of actual events. (There is only one instance in his book where he writes that a Midrash should be understood figuratively.) He combines disparate midrashic tales into a single event, although Midrashim were composed at different times for dissimilar purposes. He accepts the idea that the misdeed of a single individual can cause all Jews to be punished, even generations after the evil event. He believes that the Jewish goal in Israel is the establishment of a State that is run according to Torah laws.
Readers will be fascinated in seeing how he applies these ideas.