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The Spy with a Different Spirit

Shlach (Numbers 13-15 )

by Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen

Of the twelve spies sent to explore the land of Israel, only Yehoshua and Calev remained loyal to the instructions that Moshe gave them. The remaining ten fell prey to their lack of trust in God and thereby slandered the land, causing the nation to cry in despair. The Chofetz Chaim asks a number of questions arise with regard to Calev’s role in this incident.1 Firstly he quotes the verse which tells us that Moshe added the letter ‘yud’ to Hoshea’s name to make him Yehoshua.2 Chazal explain that Moshe prayed, “Hashem, save him from the plan of the spies.”3 Why did he not pray for Calev as well?4 Furthermore, Chazal teach us that whilst they were in the land of Israel, Calev went to Chevron to pray at the graves of the Forefathers to protect him from joining the other spies in their evil plan.5 Why didn’t Yehoshua also go to Chevron to pray? Finally, the Chofetz Chaim notes God’s praise of Calev; “My servant Calev since he had a different spirit and he followed after me.”6 Why did God single out Calev for this praise and not Yehoshua. And on a simpler level, what does it mean that Calev had a ‘different spirit’?

The Chofetz Chaim begins his answer to these questions by first explaining that there are two different approaches in serving God when a person is facing the danger of being spiritually harmed by sinners. One way is that he can openly resist them and show that he does not agree with their actions. The other is that he can remain quiet during their sins and even perhaps pretend to agree with them, but when they come to publicize their beliefs, he can then show his true beliefs and oppose them.

There is an advantage and disadvantage to both approaches. The first approach has the risk that since the person openly opposes the sinners, he is in physical danger of being harmed by them. However, it has the advantage that it is very unlikely that he will be negatively influenced spiritually since he is openly resisting them. The second approach has the advantage that the sinners will not harm him since they believe he is on their side, yet the risk is that he will be slowly influenced by them as he is pretending to actually share their beliefs.

The Chofetz Chaim continues that Moshe prophetically knew that Yehoshua fit into the first group – he would openly oppose the spies. Moshe also knew that Calev was in the second group – his way was to hide his true beliefs so that the spies would think he was on their side. In this way they would allow him to speak to the people in their mistaken belief that he would support their cause; this is in fact what took place. With this explanation the Chofetz Chaim answers all his questions:

He asked why Moshe only prayed for Yehoshua and not Calev. He answers that Moshe’s prayer was for the physical welfare of his student, not his spiritual well-being. Yehoshua’s approach was to openly oppose sinners, accordingly Moshe did not need to pray that Yehoshua be spiritually protected only that the spies not physically harm him. In contrast Moshe knew that Calev would hide his true beliefs and therefore would not be in danger of being harmed by the spies.7 However, when the spies reached the land Calev quickly realized the nefarious plans of the spies. He then decided to take the second approach of hiding his true intentions. Yet he recognized the spiritual risk that he would be influenced by the spies to follow in their ways. Therefore, he felt the need for Heavenly assistance and went to Chevron to pray that he would remain steadfast in his Bitachon. Yehoshua, in contrast, was in no such need of extra assistance because he was openly resisting the spies’ arguments.

The final question was why only Calev was praised as having a ‘different spirit’. The Chofetz Chaim explains based on Rashi that it means that Calev had two ‘spirits’ which means two ways of behaving, one in his speech and one in his heart. Because he spoke as if he agreed with the spies, they allowed him to speak to the people because they thought he would support their arguments. Instead, he was able to finally show his true ‘spirit’, his firm trust in God and Moshe as his Prophet. God singles out Calev for this unique praise because it was not applicable to Moshe – he showed greatness in his own approach of opposing the spies, but here God was emphasizing Calev’s special ability to remain strong whilst pretending to be on the side of the spies.

We have seen how Calev and Yehoshua epitomized two different ways of surviving in the midst of evildoers. This applies in our own lives; whilst the people around us may not have nefarious motives, nonetheless their behavior may not fit in with the Torah approach. It is often difficult to adopt the method of Yehoshua in these times without causing undue friction. Therefore, it may be impractical to openly oppose them and therefore one must follow Calev and silently keep steadfast in his beliefs. One lesson we learn from Calev is the need for Heavenly assistance, and that the way to attain this is through sincere prayer. If a person prays with the recognition that he needs Divine assistance to help then he can indeed emulate Calev.

  1. Shemiras Halashon, Chelek 2, Ch.19.
  2. Bamidbar, 13:16.
  3. Bamidbar Rabbah, 18.
  4. One could ask further that Moshe should have prayed for all the spies. See Gur Aryeh and Ayelet Hashachar, Bamidbar, 13:16.
  5. Quoted by Rashi, Bamidbar, 13:22.
  6. Bamidbar, 14:24.
  7. One could ask, according to this explanation of the Chofetz Chaim, why Moshe did not pray for Calev to be spiritually protected from the plan of the spies. It is possible to answer that the Chofetz Chaim holds that one cannot pray for another person not to sin because the decision to sin is based on one’s free will and prayers cannot change someone’s free will. This issue is discussed by many authorities; see Chazon Ish, end of Orach Chaim; Ben Yehoyada, Sotah 34b.



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