- Shlach 101
Yehoshua and Calev
January 2008, Contributed by
Asher ben Shimon
Torah Portions Archive
In this week's Torah portion Shelach, we read the famous story of the
spies that Moshe sent to the land of Kenaan which was going to become
the Jewish homeland. Unfortunately the spies did not carry out their
mission as instructed which resulted in Hashem punishing the Jewish
people with forty years of wandering in the desert.
After Moshe sent off the 12 spies, each of whom was the leader of a
tribe, the Torah tells us that: "They came to the Valley of Eshkol
and they cut a branch with a cluster of grapes. They carried it on a
pole between two [people] and [they also took] some pomegranates and
Rashi comments: "Yehoshua and Calev did not take anything, for the
intention of the others was to present a slanderous report, [namely,]
just as its fruit is strange, so its people are strange".
What gave Yehoshua and Calev the right not to carry out Moshe's
instruction? He had told them clearly: "You shall be courageous and
take from the fruit of the land". Even if their fellow spies did have
bad intentions, they should, despite this have brought back the
fruits with the intention to show the people how special they were.
To say that they were not compelled to follow this specific
instruction because it was Moshe who had said it and not Hashem,
would be incorrect, because the entire idea of sending the spies in
the first place had been Moshe's. This we see from the first words of
the Parsha. "Send out for yourself ". -According to your own
understanding. I am not commanding you, but if you wish, you may
send. (Rashi). The question which arises is; if they had decided to
accept the mission why did they not complete it?
Rashi's source is in the Talmud.
The Talmud suggests two reasons why they didn't help with carrying
1) They were more important than the other spies. (Calev was the
leader of the tribe of Yehuda, which is the tribe where the Jewish
kings come from. AndYehoshua was Moshe's private servant)
2) They were not involved in the scheme to slander the land upon
The difference between the two reasons might depend on whether or not
the entire mission was cancelled after part of the group decided not
to carry it out as instructed.
According to the first reason it seems that they were still obligated
to bring back fruits but because of their importance they didn't have
to do the actual carrying as long as it was being done by the others.
According to the second reason though, it seems that as soon as the
majority of the group backed out of the mission, the remaining two
spies were relieved from their mission.
This would depend on how the mission applied to the group in the
first place. If we say that there was one general mission to all
twelve spies, then as soon as part of the group didn't carry out
instructions, the entire mission fell apart.
But if we say that Moshe's instruction was to each spy individually,
then it didn't matter what the other spies' intentions were; everyone
had to carry out their own mission.
Based on this we can conclude that Rashi, who used the second reason
as argument to defend Yehoshua and Calev's position, maintains that
there was no more mission once the other spies backed out. He prefers
this reason to the first one because otherwise he would have to say
that Yehoshua and Calev put their own importance over Moshe's mission
and this would have been inconceivable.
When we look at the continuation of the story however, it appears
that Yehoshua and Calev continued with the mission even though they
did not carry the giant fruits. They pleaded with the people not to
listen to the interpretation of the other ten spies but to accept
that the land was special in a positive sense.
This can also be understood from a verse later on when we read about
the plague that killed the spies that sinned.
"But Yehoshua the son of Nun and Calev the son of Yefunneh remained
alive of the men who went to tour the Land"
Rashi quotes the Talmud on this saying: "What does the Torah mean by
saying, "remained alive of the men" It teaches that they took the
spies' portion in the Land, and replaced them in life, as it were."
In other words, Moshe's mission was accomplished by Yehoshua and
Calev in place of all twelve spies.
In addition to that, it appears from the fact that Yehoshua and Calev
stayed with the other spies until after their return, that they were
on a joint mission till the very end. If the mission would have been
nullified as soon as the negative thoughts came into the picture,
they could have left even before they entered the land. Maybe they
shouldn't have even gone in the first place as Moshe already sensed
that not everything was going according to plan, which is why he
prayed for Yehoshua.
The difference in wording between the Talmud and Rashi might shed
some light on this issue.
The Talmud only says that "They were not part of the scheme".
Rashi adds that they did not take anything, for the intention of the
others was to present a slanderous report.
In other words, according to the Talmud, Yehosua and Calev didn't
want to do anything that could have been interpreted as being part of
the scheme but the carrying of the fruits in itself wasn't a negative
According to Rashi though, the carrying of the fruits was in order to
give a slanderous report. It was a negative action.
The problem with this explanation is that
A) who says that that was enough of a reason not to follow Moshe's
instructions. They should have carried out what they were told to do
and if that would have a negative outcome, Moshe would have had to
deal with that.
B) How does Rashi know that bringing the fruits was part of the
Historically this may not be correct. According to what we read in
the Torah they added the negative twist only AFTER they showed the
fruits to the people. Rashi himself mentions this suggesting that
they wanted to show the giant fruits first because otherwise the
people wouldn't have believed them that the people there were too
mighty (in their minds) to conquer. Every lie needs some truth to
make it believable Rashi says. The fruits were the evidence which
made the rest believable. How then can he also say that bringing the
fruit was in itself something negative?
There are certain Mitzvot that one must DO, and there are others that
have to be DONE.
For instance the two parts of Tefillin. There is Mitzvah to PUT
tefillin on the hand and there is a mitzvah to HAVE a "sign between
you eyes". (the head Tefillin) How they get there is not important.
The question is in what category Moshe's instruction fell. Was it
only his intention to HAVE Israeli fruits to show the people or did
he want the spies to CARRY fruits from Israel back into the desert?
The Talmud seems to maintain that Moshe's main objective was to have
the fruits to show. For practical purposes he asked the spies to
carry them back. Yehoshua and Calev therefore did not feel obligated
to carry the fruits since they were being brought by the other spies.
Thus not wanting to be seen as part of the rest of the group was
enough of a reason not to help carry them. Even a weak argument such
as 'this is below our dignity' was good enough to keep a distance
from the others.
Rashi on the other hand, maintains that Moshe's instruction "You
shall be courageous and take from the fruit of the land" literally
applied to each of the twelve spies. Because of that, according to
some of the Rabbis in the Talmud, Yehoshua and Calev actually did
take part in the carrying.
That is why Rashi wrote: "Yehoshua and Calev did not take anything,
for the INTENTION of the others was to present a slanderous report,
[namely,] just as its fruit is strange, so its people are strange"
They took the fruits with a negative INTENTION but never said
anything bad in connection with it. They were going to make it appear
as if they fulfilled Moshe's instruction by bringing back fruits.
Their hope was that the Jewish people would conclude (based on the
added conclusion in their report that the land was too strong to be
conquered) that "just as its fruit is strange, so its people are
This explains why Yehosua and Calev did not carry fruits despite them
being obligated to do so.
If the other spies wouldn't have had negative intentions, they would
almost definitely have helped the others. However, since they knew
what the others where up to, they felt that being part of a sin was
strong enough to push aside Moshe's instruction. Or maybe we can even
say that Moshe's instruction didn't even apply anymore since the
purpose of showing the fruits was to get the Jewish people excited
about going to Israel. Performing an action to defeat that purpose
cannot be considered carrying out Moshe's instruction.
Our sages explain that the spies, who were righteous men before they
left, tried to persuade the people to stay in the desert because they
preferred the more spiritual lifestyle there. They fully understood
that the era of miraculous food and shelter would come to an end once
they entered the Promised Land where they would have to perform
physical labour. Their mistake was that the ultimate purpose of the
creation of the physical world is to live IN it and transform it to
something more spiritual.
We, who don't want to make the same mistake, potentially could come
to the conclusion that we should only focus on the physical actions
of the Mitzvot.
The above discussion teaches us that this is not so. If a negative
intention can change a Mitzvah into a sin, as was the case with the
spies, a positive intention can make a lifeless action into something
much more special.
"A Mitzvah without intention is like a body without a soul" say our
sages. Just as the soul transforms a dead body into a living person,
so too does the intention 'make' the Mitzvah.
We hope and we pray that very soon we will be given the opportunity
to perform the Mitzvot with all our feelings when we will be given "a
heart of flesh" (as opposed to the 'hearts of stone' we now posses)
with the coming of Moshiach NOW!
Translations in Torah Portions of the week are partially taken from the ArtScroll
Stone Edition Chumash and from
Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch Chumash
Torah Portions Archive
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