Shelach: Of Courage and Conviction: A Tale of Two Ways

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Yellow Umbrella Among Black
17 Jun 2009

It’s time for the annual summer Bamidbar depression – an unavoidable mindset created by reading a string of five very depressing parshiyot [Beha’alotcha, Shelach Korach Chukat Balak]: five weeks marred by machloket, misdeed and missed opportunity, leaving one to ponder the what-ifs and if-onlys of Jewish history.

The meraglim (spies) post-mortems however do yield two bright lights in the form of two great heroes who stand up and out; Somehow Calev and Yehoshua find within themselves the ability to withstand the pressure and find the inner strength to buck the trend. It behooves us to understand the secret of their success, for the Diaspora Jew often finds his challenge to be that of withstanding, overcoming and ultimately staying true to one’s deepest convictions.

While the temptation to simplify Yehoshua/Calev into an undifferentiated mass might be present, a deep textual/midrashic analysis yields an almost inescapable conclusion of variant approaches; two models of dealing with a hostile environment emerge to greatly distinguish Yehoshua from Calev. Herein the incredibly deep analysis of the Chofetz Chaim:

First, consider the following four questions he raises:

  1. Moshe changes Hoshea’s name to Yehoshua [13:16]. Why? Rashi cites the midrash that Moshe understood the Meraglim challenge; the yud added to his name implying that Moshe prayed for Yehoshua’s well being: May God save you from the spies’ counsel [K-ah- Yoshiacha ..]. The obvious question – why did Moshe not pray for Calev (1)?
  2. Calev goes to Chevron. Rashi cites the midrash that he went to pray at the Patriarch’s graves so as not to be tempted by his friends in their counsel. One must ask: why did Yehoshua not join him (2)?
  3. In the Meraglim aftermath, Hashem praises Calev [14:24]: And my servant Calev – because he had a different spirit with him and he followed my path… and I shall bring him to the land that he went to. An obvious question: Was Calev the only one that had a different path – surely Yehoshua was also cut from the same mold, why then does the text single out Calev (3)?
  4. The Tosefta notes that at times Yehoshua is mentioned before Calev and vice versa. Why would one think otherwise?

How does one handle living in an intellectually hostile environment and preserve his ideals? Not per se a violent one, but an environment whose values radically differs from his worldview. For the Chofetz Chaim, a tale of two approaches emerges.

One approach is the oppositional road. The lone ranger should stake his turf, loudly, with clarity and passion. If one articulates unequivocally, it is unlikely he will be swayed – for he possesses inner clarity and the outer group most certainly will reject him. A second derech (path) is the quiet road, an outward passive go-with-the-flow mindset where the outnumbered individual neither voices approval nor engages in any type of strenuous objection/protest.

Each approach has its relative strengths and weaknesses.

a. The oppositionalist, who makes a clear ideological claim is far less likely to succumb to peer pressure and mass influence while the passive rejectionist runs the risk, that by not clarifying, he may be embraced and/or swept up by the group theology.

b. What the oppositionalist gains in clarity, he loses in safety. A dissident puts his very life and/or freedom in peril. Hostile societies are not often hospitable and tolerant. The quiet approach is surely more secure – for in the group’s eyes, he’s one of them.

What was the Yehoshua approach? The midrash teaches that he staked out his turf early and often. In Eretz Yisrael, when the spies distorted facts, Yehoshua voices immediate objection. So it was for the forty day mission. Yehoshua thus puts himself in harm’s way. Prescient Moshe understands his talmid’s personality well and realizes that Yehoshua is in great physical danger. He thus prays that God should foil the counsel of the spies (m’atzat meraglim) – their desire to physically eliminate their opposition. Calev, however needs no such prayer. Why?

For Calev, the right approach is the passive one. He suffers in silence, enduring a fate of quiet torment. His physical safety is ensured; for him the battle is an internal one – the battle of bechira (choice), exercising the right choice to not be swayed by his hostile environment. Calev needs chizuk (support), and seeks it by praying in Chevron at the grave of the Patriachs – the home of Avraham Avinu, the man most famous for overcoming his hostile surroundings – a trait he passes on to Yitzchak and Yaakov before Bnei Yisrael is developed. For Yehoshua, there is no need to seek internal fortitude.

Which approach is better? One thing is clear. Yehoshua has been the standard historical model within Klal Yisrael. His approach of clarity ensures spiritual safety. How fitting it is that Yehoshua ultimately becomes the leader of Klal Yisrael – for a leader must articulate a clear, unambiguous message. Yet while living apart wards off the risk of foreign influence, it also thwarts the benefits. The golden rule of financial investing associates a higher level of risk with a greater possibility of benefit. What is true with cash is true with life.

Calev broke in. He is, in their eyes, one of them. He has in God’s words a ruach acheret – a different approach. It is not the standard model. Is it worse and is it really worth the risk. Here, God himself gives us the answer (4).

My servant Caleiv, because he possessed in him a different spirit, and followed Me fully, I shall bring him into the land to which he came, and his children will cast [its inhabitants] from it.

Know, says God, Calev is equal to Yehoshua (5) and his approach for the right person with the right intention is surely worth it.

Here, different is also a double entendre, for as Rashi teaches, Calev had to endure an internal schism.

Two spirits, one verbal, and one in his heart. To the spies he said, ‘I am with you in your plan,’ but in his heart he intended to tell the truth. Because of this, he was able to silence them, as it is said, “Caleiv silenced [the people],” since they thought he would speak as they did. Thus it is said in the book of Yehoshua, “I (Caleiv) brought back word to him (Moshe) according to what was in my heart” —but not according to what was in my mouth.

Calev’s approach yields the incredible benefit of being able to wield influence on a broader environment. Consider as the spies deliver their crushing blow and speak of an unconquerable Eretz Yisrael, Yehoshua and Calev have a tall task ahead of them. Now is the great moment of drama, a turning point in Jewish history. Two spies can potentially save the day. The text states Calev quiets the nation. And where pray tell was Yehoshua? The midrash answers that Yehoshua has no power; Calev now cashes in on his tolerance and his inner torment. How does he do it? First he states

He cried out, saying: ‘Is it only this that the son of Amram did to us’? The listener thought that he intended to slander him. Since they were resentful towards Moshe because of the spies’ report, they were all silent, in order to hear the slander about him.

Incredibly, even till the end Calev plays along. They think Calev is fun unzerer, he is one of us. Now however is the moment of courage and conviction:

He said: ‘But did he not split the sea for us, and bring down the manna for us, and cause the quail to be blown to us’?

For but a moment, Calev has won and the ten spies repelled. They must come back again and speak more derogatorily. Ultimately, the people are swayed – but who can grasp the eternal spiritual value of Calev’s temporary victory.

One significant caveat needs to be said about the Calev approach. It requires guts. The Calev approach angles for the right moment that can change the world and leaves no room for cowards.

Consider the rabbi who takes over, (upon consultation), a mechitza-less synagogue. Undoubtedly, when American Orthodoxy’s revival is fully comprehended, no doubt the mechitza heroes will receive their fair due. The Baruch Litvins and the Rabbi Emanuel Feldmans of the world who fought and won the mechitza battle ultimately wrought great transformation upon the American Jewish community. Not all succeeded and surely the Rabbi who did not make it happen is not to blame. The Rabbi who lost his voice and/or failed to walk out is guilty of being Calev without guts.

Let us find our approaches in our Divine service and engage them with caution and courage.

Good Shabbos, Asher Brander


1. This is a famous question. Cf. Emes L’yaakov who answers that surely Miriam would protect Calev. Many

2. Cf. Rashi Sotah 34b s.v. Yehoshua, who infers from the gemara that Yehoshua had no need to pray in Chevron as he was the recipient of Moshe’s prayer! Of course, this solves this question – but only serves to accentuate the question of why Moshe did not also pray for Calev.

3. Cf. Ramban, ibid, who answers that to articulate Yehoshua’s reward, i.e. to take over as Moshe’s successor would have been inappropriate at this juncture.

4. A contemporary application of these divergent approaches may be seen in the classic Austritt dispute waged between two heavyweights of the mid 19th century, Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch and Rav Yitzchak Bamberger. The issue of Austritt, i.e. secession from the Reform Gemeinder was put on the table. Given that the German government gave political standing and recognition to faith communities, the Frankfurt Jewish community, dominated by the Reform movement had made traditional religious life (shechitah, mikvah, etc.) difficult. Rav Hirsch scored a political coup by gaining independent recognition for an independent Orthodox Gemeinder (the forerunner of KAJ) – whereupon the Reform-dominated Gemeinder cede religious control to the Orthodox in order to remain together. In what became a bitter battle in a series of strident letters, Rav Hirsch demanded secession while Rav Bamberger felt it better to remain as one community. The unsurprising result: acrimony and a Frankfurt Orthodox community.

5. Thus the Tosefta’s point that sometimes he is mentioned before Yehoshua and vice versa

Rabbi Asher Brander is the Rabbi of the Westwood Kehilla, Founder/Dean of LINK (Los Angeles Intercommunity Kollel) and is a Rebbe at Yeshiva University High Schools of Los Angeles

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.