What Do Wood Choppers and Water Carriers Have to do with the Sanctification of God’s Name?

In Parshat Nitzavim, Moshe gathers the entire community together on the last day of his life and initiates them into the covenant of God.

We read in Devarim 29:9-10: “You are standing today all of you before HaShem your God: the heads of your tribes, your elders and your officers- all the men of Israel; your small children, your women and your convert who is in the midst of your camp, from the chopper of your wood to the drawer of your water.”

Why are the choppers of wood and the drawers of water specifically pointed out here?

According to Rashi, the Cnaanim came to convert during the days of Moshe, the way that the Givonim came to convert during the days of Yehoshua. As it says concerning the Givonim (Yehoshua 9:3) “They too acted cunningly.” Moshe assigned these Cnaanim to serve as wood cutters and water drawers.

What was the problem with the Givonim?

According to the Rambam in Hilchot Melachim 6:1,6, In the days of Yehoshua, the Givonim thought that it was too late to make peace with B’nai Yisrael, agree to observe the Seven Noahide laws of universal morality, pay taxes and perform national service. The Givonim were under the impression that they would either have to evacuate the Land of Israel or face total war. They therefore devised a plan to deceive Yehoshua and the leaders of Israel.

The Givionim disguised themselves as travelers from a distant region and asked Yehoshua and the leaders to swear that they would not harm them. When the leaders found out the truth, that the Givonim were in fact not from a faraway land, they did not annul their oath.

According to Rabbi Yehuda in the Talmud, Gitin 46a, we learn from here that an oath made in public cannot be annulled as it says in Yehoshua 9:18: “B’nei Yisrael did not slay them (the Givonim), because the leaders of the assembly had sworn to them by Hashem…”

Rashi comments that if the leaders had they been able to, they surely would have had the vow annulled.

The Rabbis in the Talmud disagree with Rabbi Yehuda. They say that a vow that was made publicly can be annulled especially since it was made under false pretenses The Givonim said that they came from a distant land when they did not come from a distant land at all. They were living in the Land of Israel the whole time.

So why didn’t Yehoshua kill the Givonim if technically they could have annulled the vow that said that they wouldn’t harm them?

Yehoshua did not kill the Givonim in order to sanctify God’s name. This way, later on, no idol worshippers would be able to say that the Jews violated their oath.

However, B’nai Yisrael were very angry and wanted to kill the Givonim for deceiving them.

Yehoshua did not allow anyone to hurt the Givonim. Instead, he gave the Givonim the punishment of having to be woodchoppers and water drawers for the Mishkan and for the Beit HaMikdash. Their status was as non Jewish slaves that would not be allowed to marry into B’nai Yisrael.

Yehoshua could have been cruel but for the sake of the sanctification of God’s name, he did not hurt the Givonim even though they took advantage of him.

A lot of what happens in Yehoshua, Chapter 9 reminds me of what is happening in Israel today.

Israel is still making treaties with those who come under false pretenses. Israel holds up her end of the bargain even when our “peace partners” do not. For the sanctification of God’s name Israel continues to use more restraint than any other nation in the world ever would given the circumstances.