Moses selects twelve men, twelve princes of Israel to scout the land of Canaan, the land God promised to the nation of Israel. The princes are named. Each one was a great leader. Not only were they great leaders, but the rabbinic tradition holds that they were also righteous men.
However, between their appointment and their report on what they saw in the land of Canaan, something happened. Something that led them to sin so gravely that they sowed panic and dissension within the nation of Israel. They repudiated Moses’ leadership and God’s omnipotence and brought upon the entire nation the punishment of forty years of wandering in the desert.
The Chidushei HaRim on Numbers 13:2 wonders how this transformation occurred. How did ten of the most important men of Israel’s leadership, ten righteous men fall so low, so fast?
He explains that it had to do with the people. It was not only their appointment and the power it represented that corrupted these previously righteous men. It was the people they represented. Somehow, by having some level of representation of the people, the princes picked up on the people’s intentions. The problem was that a certain percentage of the population didn’t want to enter the Promised Land. They had tired of the desert, of Moses’ leadership, and of God’s presence in their lives. They wanted to be free of those, and ironically, return to the slavery and the familiarity of Egypt. Those rebellious intentions somehow infected the previously righteous leaders once they were appointed. That tainted the princes’ scouting mission from the start. Their scouting of the land of Canaan commenced with an intention to sabotage the planned entry into the land.
However, two princes were spared from the conspiracy and demonstrated greater strength of character and loyalty. Those were Joshua and Caleb. Before Joshua had departed on the mission, Moses renamed Joshua (in Hebrew, he changed it from Hoshea to Yehoshua) by including a part of God’s name in Joshua’s name. Caleb went to the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron to pray at their graves. It seems that binding oneself so firmly to God that it becomes a part of one’s name and identity, as well as intense prayer calling on the merits of our forefathers somehow deflected the negative influences of the crowd on those two leaders.
May we always seek ways to deflect the corruption and negative influences we may find.
Dedication: To the induction of Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Rimon as the Rabbi of Gush Etzion.