What must strike anyone who reviews this parsha is the obtuseness of the meraglim (scouts who were sent to spy out the land). How could distinguished leaders, who with their own eyes witnessed miracles such as the 10 plagues, the collapse of the great Egyptian empire, the splitting of the Red Sea, manna falling from the heavens, sweet water gushing forth from rocks, and above all, hearing the voice of G-d at Sinai – how could such a people lose their faith and rebel? And more, this rebellion occurred immediately in the wake of the punishment of Miriam the prophetess, who spoke about her brother Moses. How can a people who witnessed the tragic consequences of negative talk dare to malign G-d’s gift – the Holy Land of Eretz Yisrael.
Upon closer scrutiny, we might find some mitigating circumstances. All this occurred at the Genesis of our history, when our nation was in its youth and we were still nursing the scars of our torturous Egyptian bondage. A great Rebbe once said – ‘It was one thing to take the Jews out of Egypt, but it’s something else again for the Jews to take Egypt out of themselves.’ So the nation had to experience 40 years of wandering in the dessert and it was only the next generation that had been nurtured in the holy Tabernacles of Torah who were deemed worthy of entering the Promised Land.
But what of us? We who can look back upon centuries of experiences – we who have seen the terrible consequences of the abandonment of our faith; we who have been scourged by the lash and the sting of the nations. From Pharaoh to Hitler to Arafat – nothing has changed throughout the centuries. Why have we not learned from history?
Before we respond to that question, let us return to our ancient past. There were two scouts of the 12, Joshua and Caleb, who valiantly manifested their faith and distanced themselves from the perfidy of the others. What was their secret? What are the lessons that we can imbibe from them? Prior to their reconnaissance mission, Joshua underwent a change of name (Numbers, 13:16). Moshe substituted the letter ‘hey’ at the beginning of his name with the letter ‘yud.’ Thus, Hoshea became Yehoshua. The significance of this name change can perhaps best be explained through a curious midrash. It is written that G-d removed the letter ‘yud’ from Mother Sarah’s name. Thus Sarai became Sarah, Whereupon the ‘yud’ went to complain in front of G-d’s Throne. ‘Almighty G-d, why did You remove me from the end of the name of that righteous woman?’
‘Don’t worry,’ G-d responded. ‘In future generations, I will place you in front of the name of one of her descendants who will lead the people into Eretz Yisrael.’
This midrash is difficult to understand. After all, doesn’t G-d have sufficient ‘yuds’ in His treasury? Must He remove the ‘yud’ from Mother Sarah for Yehoshua? And the answer to that is a resounding ‘Yes!’ The ‘yud’ had to come from Mother Sarah, for it was she who detected the murderous nature of Yishmael. It was she who told Father Abraham ‘Lo yirash ben ha’ama hazos im b’nee’ – ‘The son of this handmaiden cannot be permitted to inherit with my son’ (Genesis 21:9).
Was it only yesterday that Arik Sharon declared: ‘Never again will we place our security in the hands of strangers or rely on the kindness of others.’ Was it only yesterday that Arik Sharon, the staunchest supporter of settlements declared Camp David and the Oslo Accords ‘disastrous.’ Was it only yesterday that he said that anyone sincerely committed to the security of Israel could not support a Palestinian state? Was it only yesterday that he proclaimed Yehuda and Shomron the rightful inheritance of the Jewish people?
Can it be that today this very same Sharon has labeled the very same land ‘Occupied Territory’ – that this very same Sharon ordered the dismemberment of settlements and the release of the most vicious killers from prison – killers who have rained terror over Israel and shed the innocent blood of our people? How can this be happening? Who can bestow Mother Sarah’s ‘yud’ on the names of the leaders of the government of Israel?
My 15-year-old granddaughter explained it all as we were walking to shul one Shabbos, ‘Bubba,’ she said, ‘It’s simple. If leadership is not based on Torah, if there is no emunah – faith – then under pressure everything becomes negotiable. From the meraglim (scouts) of yesteryear to the reality of today, nothing has changed.
You might of course argue that it is hardly realistic for Israel to take a stand against America, or for that matter, against the entire world – but from time immemorial, there has been nothing realistic about Israel’s existence or her survival. The meraglim were confronted with that same
dilemma. How can we ordinary people prevail against these giants who occupy the land of Canaan, they asked.
Caleb ben Yefuna gave them the answer. He went to Hebron. Even then, Hebron was a dangerous place, but he knew that it was in Hebron that he would find the secret to Jewish survival, for it is in Hebron that our Patriarchs and Matriarchs are buried and it is in their merit that we inherit the land.
To be sure, realistically, a nomad former slave nation had no chance against the powerful Canaanites, but reality has nothing to do with our destiny. It was not realistic that a nation of slaves should defeat the most powerful force in the ancient world – the Egyptian Empire. And in our own time, it was not realistic that the Jewish people, emerging wounded and bleeding from the ashes of the Holocaust, should triumph over the combined Arab armies. Nor was it realistic for a nation to return to its land after almost 2,000 years of absence, redeem its eroded soil and rebuild her ancient cities.
Alas, we no longer believe in the promise. We have forgotten who we are. We live with reality. We recognize Tel Aviv as ours, but Hebron, the Me’arat HaMachpelah belongs to the ancient past. It has no bearing on our reality. Where are you, Caleb, to show us how to daven in Hebron? That is our reality.