Bemidbar 27:21 says that prior to going to war, Yehoshu'a should stand before Elazar the Kohen and ask the Urim Vetumim questions, and go by its advice.

I am aware that there is a rule that no other prophet following Moses compared to Moses. Yet we do see that G-d Yehoshua does ask G-d questions such as after the initial defeat at 'Ai (Yehoshua ch. 7). Why did he have to use the Urim Vetumim regarding war-related questions rather than asking G-d directly? Is there something specific about preparing for war that requires using that medium?

  • It seems like it was common practice to use the Urim for war. see Shoftim 20. 1 Shumel 23. see also brachot 3b.
    – Bach
    Commented Jul 17, 2017 at 13:56
  • @Bach (Is your 1st name "Carl" ?) Would you know if questions asked of Urim Vetumim were specifically restricted to war-related questions, or was it used for other items?
    – DanF
    Commented Jul 17, 2017 at 14:37
  • It does not look like that it was restricted to war only. The Rambam (keli hamikdash 10:11-12) says the Urim should not be used only for community related questions - that is questions that affect the whole nation of Israel. However, i cannot imagine anything other than war that would affect the whole community (my name is not Carl nor Bach, but i am i big fan of his music though :).
    – Bach
    Commented Jul 17, 2017 at 18:46

2 Answers 2


Rashi on that verse seems to address this;

ולפני אלעזר הכהן יעמד. הֲרֵי שְׁאֵלָתְךָ שֶׁשָּׁאַלְתָּ, שֶׁאֵין הַכָּבוֹד הַזֶּה זָז מִבֵּית אָבִיךָ, שֶׁאַף יְהוֹשֻׁעַ יְהֵא צָרִיךְ לְאֶלְעָזָר (תנחומא): ולפני אלעזר הכהן יעמד

AND HE SHALL STAND BEFORE ELEAZAR THE PRIEST — Here you have the request that you have made: that this honour should not depart from your father’s house, for Joshua, too, will need Eleazar (Midrash Tanchuma, Pinchas 11).

The Ibn Ezra says clearly that Elazar was there to interpret the Urim Vetumim;

על פיו יצאו. על פי אלעזר במשפט האורים וי"א על פי משפט האורים והראשון ישר בעיני:

AT HIS WORD SHALL THEY GO OUT. Upon the word of Eleazar by the judgment of the Urim. In others words, al piv (at his word) refers to Eleazar’s word. Others say, in accordance to the judgment of the Urim. According to this interpretation, al piv (at his word) refers to the Urim. For the Urim see Ex. 28:30 and I.E.’s comment on Ex. 28:5 (Vol. 2, pp. 591-598). The first interpretation appears correct to me.

The Sifsei Chachamim explains that Rashi deduced this from the fact that Hashem could have told this to Yehoshua directly; the only reason He told Moshe was because Moshe wanted to keep the honor within his family and this was how that would be accomplished.

הרי שאלתך ששאלת. ר"ל היאך בא עניין זה לכאן, מה עניין אלעזר אצל יהושע. [ג"א] דאל"כ למה צוה זה למשה ה"ל לצוות ליהושע בעצמו:

Here is [the reply] to your request. That is to say, how was this matter relevant here, for what relevance did Elozor have to [the appointment of] Yehoshua? (Gur Aryeh) For if not so, why did He command Moshe, He should have commanded Yehoshua directly.

So, it seems that although there could of been other methods for Hashem to communicate with Yehoshua, He chose this way so that the honor would stay within the family of Moshe.


See Haamek Davar and Alshich there. Haamek Davar understands that this was an assurance that God would be with Yehoshua even if he does not merit Prophecy, Alshich understands that this would only be necessary prior to Moshe resting his hands on Yehoshua, and this is meant to express that distinction. See also Bavli Yoma 73b that a message from the urim vetumim has more force.

I recall another interpretation that the need to consult via others was meant to facilitate maintaining humility as a leader, but I don't recall where.

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