Letter and Spirit

For the week ending 13 June 2020 / 21 Sivan 5780

Calev – Alone in Courage

by Rabbi Yosef Hershman
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hen the spies return with their slanderous report, Calev and Yehoshua exhibited extraordinary strength of character and loyalty. When the people broke out in tumultuous cries, Calev hushed the crowd, refuting the spies’ report and insisting that the Land was exceedingly good and with G-d’s help, conquerable.

The verse that describes the spies’ entry into the Land first uses the plural form (vaya’alu) and then the singular form (vayavo), such that the verse reads: They went up from the south and came (singular)to Chevron. Our Sages understand that the singular verb refers to Calev, who alone went to pray at the graves of the Patriarchs for the strength to resist the counsel of his colleagues. Later, Calev’s connection to the city is sealed when he is given Chevron as an inheritance.

However, it appears that the other spies also reached Chevron. Their report describes the “children of the giants” who frightened them and left a powerful impression. This description caused the people to lose heart and courage. Those “children of giants” appear only in Chevron, and thus, all of the spies likely travelled together there. Why, then, does the verse use the singular form? Often the Torah uses the singular to denote many people who are of single heart and mind. For example, when the Jewish People camped around Sinai before the giving of Torah, the verse describes their camping in the singular (vayichan). Our Sages comment, “As one man with one heart.” So too, here, until the spies arrived in Chevron, they were of one heart and mind, of a common goal. But that changed in Chevron, upon the sight of the giants. This left such a strong impression on them that they had a change of heart. Their views began to change when their courage disappeared.

It is possible to reconcile the two interpretations. Calev’s powerful influence kept his fellow delegates united in mind and spirit until they reached Chevron. There, the conflict broke out and that is what prompted Calev to pray at the graves of the Patriarchs for the strength to withstand the influence of the group, and to maintain his faithfulness. The singular verb indicates both: Under Calev’s influence, the group travelled in unified loyalty, and then when the fear induced panic, Calev alone left the group to pray for assistance. Ultimately he is richly rewarded. Not only did he merit to enter the Land, whereas the rest of his generation did not — but the very place in which he departed from their treachery is given to him as an inheritance.

  • Source: Commentary, Bamidbar 13:22

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