וַיִּשְׁמַע יְהוֹשֻׁעַ אֶת קוֹל הָעָם בְּרֵעֹה וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל מֹשֶׁה קוֹל מִלְחָמָה בַּמַּחֲנֶה. וַיֹּאמֶר אֵין קוֹל עֲנוֹת גְּבוּרָה וְאֵין קוֹל עֲנוֹת חֲלוּשָׁה קוֹל עַנּוֹת אָנֹכִי שֹׁמֵעַ.
Yehoshua heard the sound of the people in it's shouting, and he said to Moshe, “The sound of battle is in the camp!” And he (Moshe) said, “Not a sound shouting strength nor a sound shouting weakness; a sound of distress do I hear!” (Shemos 32:17-18).
Rashi explains as follows: אין קול ענות גבורה: אין הקול הזה נראה קול עניית גבורים הצועקים נצחון - “Not a sound shouting strength”. This sound does not seem to be the sound of the mighty who cry out, “Victory!”, ולא קול חלשים שצועקים וי או ניסה - nor the sound of the weak who cry out “Woe!” or “Flee!” קול ענות: קול חרופין וגדופין - “a sound of distress”. The sound of blasphemy and vilification, המענין את נפש שומען - which distress the soul of whoever hears them, כשנאמרין לו - when said to him.
This requires clarification: Even though Yehoshua was not on the same spiritual level as Moshe Rabbeinu, as it says פני משה כפני חמה ופני יהושע כפני לבנה - “The face of Moshe was as bright as the face of the sun; the face of Yehoshua was like the face of the moon” (Bava Basra 75a), he was still chosen as Moshe’s successor.
Therefore, he surely had Ruach HaKodesh - “divine inspiration”. So how could he have been mistaken in saying that “The sound of battle is in the camp!” and not know the truth of what is happening? And if Yehoshua was mistaken, why does the Torah have to mention it?
Also, why does Moshe Rabbeinu give Yehoshua such a lengthy response? it seemingly would have been enough for Moshe to answer him by saying קוֹל עַנּוֹת אָנֹכִי שֹׁמֵעַ - “a sound of distress do I hear.”
We can explain as follows: Yehoshua was not mistaken when he said קוֹל מִלְחָמָה בַּמַּחֲנֶה - “The sound of battle is in the camp!” He was referring to the internal battle within every Jew - the battle between the Godly soul and the Animalistic soul, whether to follow the eirav rav and bow to the golden calf, or not.
Therefore Moshe answered him, אֵין קוֹל עֲנוֹת גְּבוּרָה - “Not a sound shouting strength” - I don't hear them proclaiming “Victory!” over their Yetzer Hora. As the Mishnah says אֵיזֶהוּ גִבּוֹר הַכּוֹבֵשׁ אֶת יִצְרוֹ - “Who is strong? He who subdues his personal inclination” (Avos 4:1). וְאֵין קוֹל עֲנוֹת חֲלוּשָׁה - “nor a sound shouting weakness.” I also don’t hear the sound of them struggling with their Yetzer Hora and crying out “Woe!” or “Flee!” It’s too late, they already sinned. קוֹל עַנּוֹת אָנֹכִי שֹׁמֵעַ - I hear the sound of Hashem (אָנֹכִי) in distress.
We can also expand on the verse as follows: קוֹל מִלְחָמָה בַּמַּחֲנֶה - “The sound of battle is in the camp!” - Whenever there is a conflict within the Jewish people, אֵין קוֹל עֲנוֹת גְּבוּרָה - “Not a sound shouting strength” - It makes no difference who is declared the victor, וְאֵין קוֹל עֲנוֹת חֲלוּשָׁה - “nor a sound shouting weakness” - It also makes no difference who declares defeat. קוֹל עַנּוֹת אָנֹכִי שֹׁמֵעַ - “a sound of distress do I hear!” - When the Jewish people are not b’achdus, they are not united; Hashem, so-to-speak, is in distress. It pains Him deeply to see that His children are not united and that they are hurting one another.
(ליל שבת קודש - תשס"ו)