QUESTION: The Gemara quotes the verse that describes the sun when it stood
still for Yehoshua, "va'Yidom ha'Shemesh" -- "And the sun remained still"
(Yehoshua 10:13). The word "va'Yidom" can also be translated as "remained
silent." RASHI explains that as long as the sun continues on its path, it is
constantly expressing Shirah, praise, to Hashem. When the sun stopped moving
for Yehoshua, it stopped expressing Shirah, and Yehoshua said Shirah to
Hashem in its place.
What does Rashi mean when he says that Yehoshua said Shirah instead of the
ANSWER: The MESHECH CHOCHMAH (beginning of Shemos) explains at length many
important aspects of the prophecy of Moshe Rabeinu. Among his discussion, he
offers insight into the words of our Gemara.
Why do we find that the only people who stopped the sun were Moshe and
(Although the Gemara says that Nakdimon ben Guryon also stopped the sun, the
Gemara in Ta'anis (20a) says that "the sun was 'Nikderah' (or 'Nakdah,' or
'Nikdemah;' see Girsa of the EIN YAKOV and RAV YAKOV EMDEN)." This can mean
that the sun "punctured" the clouds, which means that the sun was visible in
the sky after it had seemed that night had fallen due to the cloud cover, as
is evident from the story there. The Chachamim grouped that miracle together
with the miracle of Moshe and Yehoshua in order to teach that we must be
just as grateful for the miracle that happened for Nakdimon as we are for
the miracles that happened for Moshe and Yehoshua. Although the miracle was
lesser, the generation was much less deserving of a miracle.)
The Gemara in Chulin (7a) relates how Rebbi Pinchas ben Yair arrived at a
river and asked the river to stop flowing and allow him to pass. The river
responded, "I am greater than you, because even if you are on your way to do
a Mitzvah, you might end up not doing it. I, however, am certainly going to
[continue flowing and] do the will of my Master, the Creator." The point of
that dialogue is that man has no right to intervene in the natural processes
of the world, since man reflects the will of his Creator to a lesser extent
than do the aspects of the natural world. This is because man is subject to
free will, while nature has no choice about its obedience to the Divine will
and thus cannot fail in carrying out His will.
The Meshech Chochmah points out, however, that there are exceptions to this
rule. Some people lose their free will. There are times when Hashem takes
away a person's free will in order to prevent his evil intentions to harm
others from being realized, or as a punishment for his previous sins. There
are also times when Hashem takes away a person's free will because the
person has reached such a high level of service of Hashem that he is able to
perceive the will of Hashem with the same clarity as the Mal'achim perceive,
and thus he can no longer even conceive of transgressing Hashem's will. (See
TOSFOS to Bava Basra 17a, DH Sheloshah Lo.)
One such person whose free will was removed because of the great level that
he reached in Avodas Hashem was Moshe Rabeinu. The proof of this is the fact
that Hashem told the Jewish people during Moshe Rabeinu's lifetime that no
other prophet can ever revoke what Moshe Rabeinu says, and that everything
he says must be accepted. If Moshe Rabeinu had the free will to sin and to
misrepresent the will of Hashem, then how could Hashem tell us that we must
follow whatever he says? Obviously, by that time, Moshe Rabeinu no longer
had any free will to sin.
This is why Moshe Rabeinu was able to stop the sun. Although a person who
has free will is on a lower level of Avodas Hashem than the elements of the
natural world, a person who began with free will but perfected himself so
much that he reached a level where he no longer has free will is on a
*higher* level than even the elements of the natural world. This is why
Moshe Rabeinu was able to stop the sun.
The Meshech Chochmah proves that Yehoshua also reached a certain degree of
that level, as we find that Yehoshua wrote the last eight verses of the
Torah (see Bava Basra 14b). This is why he, too, was able to stop the sun.
We can now better understand the Shirah that Yehoshua expressed in place of
the sun. The RAMBAM (Hilchos Yesodei ha'Torah 3:9) writes that all of the
stars and heavenly bodies "have a soul, knowledge, and understanding," and
"they live and recognize Hashem," and "each one according to its level
praises and lauds Hashem as do the Mal'achim." He adds that the knowledge of
these heavenly bodies is less than that of the Mal'achim but greater than
that of man.
It is difficult to understand these words in a literal sense. Perhaps the
Rambam means that these heavenly bodies that unceasingly carry out their
missions to such perfection, with no shortcomings or imperfections, reflect
to a greater extent the greatness and infinite wisdom of Hashem than does
man, with his obvious failings and imperfection.
The praises that the heavenly bodies express to Hashem are the very way in
which they carry out their duty in a manner that reflects the infinite
wisdom of Hashem. (See Insights to Yoma 20:1.)
Moshe and Yehoshua, who reached a level of perfection even higher than that
of the heavenly bodies, reflected the honor of Hashem and His infinite
wisdom to an even greater degree than the heavenly bodies do. This became
evident to all when they demonstrated that even the heavenly bodies were
subject to their will, and it is in this manner that they sang the praises
of Hashem to make up for the Shirah of the sun, which stopped its natural
orbit, seemingly demonstrating an imperfection in nature.
QUESTION: The Gemara relates that when Yehoshua fought against the kings of
Kena'an, he stopped the sun two times, as the verse says, "The sun stood in
the middle (top) of the sky," and it continues, "and it did not set"
(Yehoshua 10:13), implying that it stopped again just before it was supposed
The RADAK points out that this is also evident from the rest of the verse,
"The sun stood still in Giv'on, and the moon in the valley of Ayalon." The
SEDER OLAM teaches that Yehoshua performed this miracle on the third day of
Tamuz. The moon at that time of the month is not far from the sun (it is
about 36 degrees behind -- i.e. to the east of -- the sun). The valley of
Ayalon, on the other hand, is to the *west* of Giv'on. If the sun stood
still in Giv'on, then how could the moon be seen above the valley of Ayalon?
It must be that the sun stopped twice -- the first time when it was overhead
in Giv'on (at which time the moon could not have been seen because of the
brightness of the sun). The sun stopped a second time just before it was
supposed to set, such that the moon was visible to the east of the sun
because of the darkened horizon, and that occurred when the Jewish people
had continued their pursuit of the Kena'ani nations in the valley of Ayalon.
Why did Hashem make the sun stop twice?
ANSWERS: To understand why Hashem made the sun stop twice, we must review
what happened at that time. In Sefer Yehoshua (ch. 10), we are told that the
Jewish people were encamped at Gilgul when the people of Giv'on made a peace
treaty with them. The other nations of Kena'an made war with the Giv'onim to
avenge their act of making peace with Yehoshua. Yehoshua led the Jews to
Giv'on overnight to help support the Giv'onim. Hashem told Yehoshua not to
worry and that he will succeed in conquering the enemies. Indeed, the next
morning Yehoshua came to Giv'on and fought the Kena'ani nations who suffered
great losses. The nations began to flee from Giv'on (near the modern-day
Jerusalem suburb of Neve Yakov), passed Beit Choron (along the route of the
old Jerusalem highway), and from there they continued pursuing them through
the mountainous region of Harei Yehudah until the low hills of Ayalon, until
Azekah and Makedah.
Based on this background information, the RADAK suggests that the first time
the sun stopped (when Yehoshua was in Giv'on), Yehoshua had not yet
conquered all of his enemies. Therefore, before the sun set, the sun stopped
again to give time to Yehoshua to conquer his enemies, in order to fulfill
Hashem's promise that he would vanquish all of his enemies on that day.
Why, though, did the sun not wait and let Yehoshua conquer his enemies the
first time that it stopped? Why did it start traveling its course again and
then stop a second time? It seems that Yehoshua was not able to restrain the
sun from moving beyond a certain amount of time (as the Amora'im in our
Gemara discuss). Therefore, the sun had to continue and then stop again in
order to let Yehoshua complete the war.
RAV YITZCHAK LEVI zt'l (in IYUNIM AL SEFER YEHOSHUA) suggests a brilliant
explanation for why Yehoshua did not keep the sun standing still the first
time that it stopped, in order to complete the war. He points out that
although it is advantageous to have the sun overhead while battling in the
mountains, it is detrimental to fight a battle in the plains and valleys
under the heat of the sun (the battles was fought on the third day of Tamuz,
a time of year when the sun's rays beat down brutally). When Yehoshua fought
in Giv'on, he did not know how long the war would take. He stopped the sun
at midday, hoping to complete the war. However, when he saw the enemy flee
towards the plains and valleys, he saw that if the sun remained directly
overheard, it might be to his disadvantage. Therefore, he let the sun
continue on its course, until the sun was just above the horizon -- which
was the time when the enemy reached the plains and valleys. He then stopped
the sun again (about six hours after he had stopped it at midday, the amount
of time that it takes to get from Giv'on to the coastal plain) in order to
complete the war without suffering the debilitating effects of the sun in
its full force.