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When the spies returned from “checking out” the land of Israel, they had some specific things to say, but they didn’t say that it was “bad.” That would have been going too far, since it was clear to all that G-d had commanded the Jews to enter Israel, and He would not have induced them to enter into a negative situation. Rather, the spies capitalized on some difficult circumstances that the Jews had already experienced and implied that the entry into Israel would repeat those circumstances. Let’s look exactly at what the spies said (Numbers 13:28-29). There were three main claims;

1: “The people living there are bold and the cities very fortified, and we also saw the offspring of ‘giants’ thereŔ That is, the spies built their case on the strength of the people and the nation.

2. “Amalek is settled in the land of the NegevŔ Even though Amalek was not among the seven nations, the spies mentioned them in order to scare the Jews
from entering.
3. “The Chiti and the Yebusi and the Emori are in the mountains, while the Canaanites are settled near the sea and the JordanŔ That is, even before entering Israel, the Jews would encounter obstacles as they approached.

The claims proceed from the minor to the major. First of all, the spies stated that the land and people are overly strong. However, they knew this wouldn’t put off the Jews, who had already seen tremendous miracles both in Egypt and out, as G-d and Moshe led them to Israel. Even if the land and people were strong, the Jews had faith and would continue to rely on Moshe and his miraculous abilities.

So, the spies brought up the subject of Amalek, with whom the Jews in the desert already had some experience. It was Amalek who first had the nerve to rebel and fight against the Jews. Even though the Jews defeated them, they were able to plant the seeds of doubt whether it was possible to stop the Jews in their path toward Israel. The spies reasoned that if the Jews requested someone to “check out” the land, then perhaps they had some kind of reasonable doubt whether G-d would help them conquer it by making miracles. And if so, perhaps that could be reinforced by mentioning Amalek? But, also this attempt was dubious. After all, G-d agreed that the Jews send spies, and that meant that whatever difficulties they might encounter, He would be with them in order to bring them into the Land.

So, finally the spies came up with a different tactic. They mentioned the other seven nations who would be in the path of the Jews as they approached Israel. Their intention was to plant doubt; even if G-d would make miracles for the Jews as they entered the land, who said that He would do so even before they entered Israel? To these claims, Caleb brought three answers, all of them based on Moshe’s history:

1. To the claim that the people and land were strong, Caleb answered that Moshe had “split the sea.” That is, the Jews had already seen a situation of war, and G-d had fought for them on their side against the Egyptians. (Caleb didn’t mention the exodus from Egypt, which took place before the splitting of the sea, because it didn’t involve war. At that point the Egyptians encouraged the Jews to leave Egypt).

2. To the claim that Amalek was waiting for the Jews in Israel, Caleb replied that Moshe had “sent over the pheasants” for the Jews to eat in the desert. That is, even though the Jews demanding to eat meat in the desert were only looking for an excuse to rebel, G-d answered their demands and sent the pheasants. The request for spies was also an excuse to work against G-d who had promised them the Land, and yet G-d would continue to produce miracles to bring the Jews into the Land of Israel.

3. To the claim that the seven Canaanite nations were awaiting the Jews even before their arrival in Israel, Caleb replied that Moshe had “brought down the manna” for the Jews to eat in the desert. That is, even though the entire procession of the Jews in the desert was a preparation to enter Israel, G-d took care of them by bringing down the manna, and so would He continue to do for the Jews even before they encountered the war that would be necessary to conquer the land of Israel.

And yet, Caleb doesn’t suffice with this. After listing the achievements of Moshe, he

said (13:30), “We will definitely ascend (to the land of Israel). We will take possession (of the Land), for we are certainly capable (of conquering) it.” Rashi explains that “even if Israel were in the heavens and Moshe said to make ladders to get there, we would definitely succeed.” This is not a summation statement. It was not Caleb’s intention to sum up his opinion. This we can see by the fact that the Torah text introduces this statement separately from the previous compliments to Moshe (which are included in the “Caleb silenced the peopleŔ). Here, Caleb wanted to introduce a new factor. He wanted to show that even if what Moshe suggested was completed beyond nature (such as ascending to the heavens in ladders), the Jewish people, under his leadership, would succeed. The previous claims regarding the difficulty of entering Israel had some basis in reality, and Caleb was able to refute them. But, even if the demands upon the Jews were such that no rational person could accept them, Caleb wanted to emphasize that under Moshe’s leadership, the Jews would succeed.

There’s an advantage in the achievements of one who takes initiative over the achievements of one who merely acts upon a pre-determined path and continues it. When we initiate and attempt to put into effect our own ideas, we feel completely and totally involved in it, and are therefore more likely to put effort into it. However, one who merely continues on a pre-conceived path rarely throws himself into it with all his strength. There is also a tremendous difference in the “response from Above.” He who, like Caleb, initiates his own path (Caleb went of his own initiative to the graves of the forefathers) brings down a higher light of G-dly revelation in order to illuminate his path. He is granted help from Above not only in order to stand upon the strength of his convictions, but also to persuade others. The same cannot be said of the person who merely follows advice. His decisions may be correct, but they are not his. Caleb was one who made his own decisions and was therefore able to explain them to others and persuade them. Joshua received blessings from Moshe, and himself knew what direction to take, but was incapable of persuading the rest of the Jews.

We all have tasks to achieve in life that are the equivalent of “entering the Land of Israel.” Just as the Jews had to enter Israel and fulfill mitzvoth in order that G-dliness should permeate the Land, so each one of us has a task to fulfill and thereby spread our own level of G-dliness in the world. Wherever we are, we have to “turn it into Israel.” The problem is that sometimes we become intimidated. We see friends and acquaintances who have succeeded, but we make various claims regarding our own situation. For example, we might think, “my own task in life is too difficult, there are problems in my path that others haven’t had to face,” and therefore we think that we can’t succeed. Or, we might begin to think that we ourselves aren’t good enough for such a holy task, or that there are side problems involved that prevent us from tackling the true task at hand. To all of these, the answer is that He “split the sea, brought the pheasants, and supplied the manna.” Whatever the situation, He provides the means to overcome the problems and proceed. And when we feel that we just aren’t up to it, that’s the time to apply the technique of Caleb, and pray that we don’t stumble and then go out there and act.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, vol. 8, page 82 Shabbat Shalom, Good Shabbes!
Rabbi David Sterne, Jerusalem Connection