The ancient rabbis hold several fundamental assumptions about the Torah. First and foremost is the assumption that the Torah is the inerrant word of the living and perfect God. Accordingly, the Torah must be without error. The logic is clear and simple. Since God cannot be mistaken and the words of the Torah are the words of God, the words of the Torah cannot be mistaken. Hence, any perceived grammatical errors in Hebrew must not be errors at all but the intentional departure from the norm in order to convey a specific message. Chapter 31 of the Book of Deuteronomy provides an example of how this assumption and its consequence operate.
In verse seven Moses prepares his successor Joshua for leading the people Israel into the Promised Land. He tells his protégé to “be strong and of good courage” for he, Joshua, will be the one to bring the people to its final destination. However, the proper declension of the verb ‘to bring’ does not appear here. Instead, the text uses the construct meaning “you will come.” In contrast, verse 23 has the correct Hebrew verb form. In effect, two questions emerge. The first is why a non-standard usage of the verb “to bring” is included in verse 7 and, second, why is the verb form used inconsistently?
The great medieval exegete RaShI is obliged to answer. In verse 7, Moses tells Joshua that the elders have arranged everything for him. Joshua will go as one of the people. Hence the verb form “you will come,” meaning, you will come to the Land of Israel as one among the people is appropriate. But when God speaks to Joshua (verse 23), he has a different message. Joshua is not just one of the people. He is their leader. As such, he alone will bring them to their appointed destination. As RaShI puts it: “you shall bring them in even against their will. Everything depends on you alone.” God reminds Joshua that when necessary, leaders must “take a stick and beat their followers over the head.”
While compelling people to do what authorities demand may not be the best model for leadership style, there is one element of RaShI’s interpretation that bears careful consideration during these days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur: “Everything depends on you alone.” It is certainly comfortable to blame others for our failings, or self-righteously insist that if there is a rift between us and another person it’s the other person’s fault, the truth is otherwise. Everything depends on us alone.