In Parshat Shlach, Moses sends 12 people to scout out the Land of Israel. They return with the conclusion that there’s no way to win a battle against the indigenous Canaanites.
Commentators point out that Moses sent the spies only to answer the question of how to conquer the land – not to decide “whether it’s possible.” What went wrong? Rabbi Shraga
Simmons says that to help us unravel this puzzle, we need to ask which of the following two statements is more accurate: “I can succeed.” Or: “I can’t succeed.” Simmons expands on this: ‘At first glance, the statement of “I can’t” sounds more accurate. Because “I” can’t do anything independently at all. It’s only because of God that I’m even able to wake up in the morning and tie my shoes! But on a deeper level, the statement of “I can” is more accurate. Because if we understand that everything is a gift from God, then we know there’s no limit to what we can achieve. The Almighty is all-powerful – Almighty! – and with the understanding that He’s behind us, there is no basis for “I can’t.” The Talmud says: “You are not required to finish the job; you’re just expected to do your best.” It’s that kind of effort that God wanted from the spies. The task seems impossible? You think you can’t do it? That’s because you’re thinking small, thinking finite, thinking on the basis of your own independent power. Before Moses sent the 12 spies away, he added the Hebrew letter Yud to Joshua’s name. Yud is the first letter of God’s Name. This was meant to be a reminder to the spies – every time they’d mention Joshua’s name – that the Almighty is always with you.’
We find a curiosity in the Torah regarding Moses’ treatment of Joshua and Caleb, the two spies who passed the test and came with a good report. It seems that Moses prayed for the welfare of Joshua, but not for Caleb (Rashi commentary on Numbers 13:16). Why would Joshua need Moses’ prayer, but Caleb not? After all, Joshua was closer to Moses, as his prime student, so if anyone would need a prayer to help pass the test, it should be Caleb.
Rabbi Max Weiman explains: ‘It must be that it was a prayer for Joshua’s physical welfare, not his spiritual welfare. Joshua and Caleb had two different styles or personalities: Joshua went straight on; when there was something he believed in, he said it loud and clear. Caleb was more subtle. He could play along with the spies until he got back to camp where he was safe, and then dispute their mistaken assessment. Joshua, in being “up front” with his viewpoint, might have been killed by the other spies as a rebel. He needed prayer for his physical safety.
We all have a choice to make in different situations. At times, we need to be like Joshua, and at times we need to be like Caleb. At times we need to confront the opposition, and at times we need to go with the flow until we can safely oppose. Right is right, but there is a time and a place to express it.’
Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim