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He Can Only Lead You to the Milk and Honey . . .

By: Rav Jonathan Bailey

In one of the most tragic episodes in the fledgling Jewish nation’s history, the tribal leaders sent by Moshe to tour Eretz Yisrael return overwhelmed by fear and doubt; they are defeated, despairing, and spout words of rebellion against God and His plan. Although it is a beautiful and plentiful Land, they report, there’s no way they can defeat the great giants and other mighty nations who inhabit it! Their frightening words spread through the rest of the nation who cry out all that night. This broken and bitterly disappointed people then turn to their newly established leaders, venting their rage:

“And they complained against Moshe and Aharon…and the entire gathering (עדה) said, ‘it would have been better if we had died in Egypt than dying in this desert. And why did God bring us (מביא) to this land just to fall by the sword and have our wives and children defiled?’” (Bemidbar 14:2-3)

In response to this outcry, Moshe and Aharon fall on their faces before the nation. Yehoshua and Kalev however, do not take this besmirching criticism of God lying down and immediately respond to the blasphemously defiant nation.

“And they said to the entire gathering (עדה) of Bnei Yisrael, ‘the land in which we traveled through, touring it, is a very, very good land. If God wants to bring (מביא) us into this land, then He will give it to us…just don’t rebel against God and don’t fear the inhabitants of the land…God is with us, do not fear!’” (7-9)

The chastised nation is not convinced; they quickly prepare to stone the ones who reprimanded them. God intervenes, and although ultimately accepts Moshe’s plea not to destroy the entire nation, He swears, however, that the entire sinning generation before Him will die in the desert and only their children will enter Eretz Yisrael. This damning death sentence specifically does not include Yehoshua and Kalev; they, God states, will be the only ones of this generation who will enter the Land:

“’How long will this evil gathering (עדה) complain against Me?...[I swear] that none of you will enter (תבואו) this Land that [God] has promised to you; except for Kalev Ben Yefuneh and Yehoshua Bin Nun’” (27 and 30)

It is easy to appreciate that the unique privilege Kalev and Yehoshua receive reflects the unique support which they demonstrated for God against the rebellious nation’s cries. Textually, all the verses’ words match: originally, the עדה complain against God concerning Him bringing them to Eretz Yisrael to die; Kalev and Yehoshua respond to that עדה saying if God truly wants to bring them, He will – don’t rebel against God; and God, in turn, responds that this עדה will not be brought into the Land that He had promised them. A perfect formula: the very ones who rebelled against God for bringing them to Eretz Yisrael are therefore not brought into that land; those who stood up for God courageously opposing those rebels receive the opposite consequence, and are therefore brought into the Land.

If this was all there was to this tragic episode, we could appreciate its complete and proper justice as reflected through the ‘clean’ symmetry of the complaint, the response, and God’s justified subsequent punishment (and reward). However, Kalev’s and Yehoshua’s heroic defense of God wasn’t the first time Kalev spoke up during this affair! For, immediately after the tourists originally share their damaging report, and before the nation cries and challenges Moshe and Aharon, Kalev, himself (sans Yehoshua), addresses his fellow tourists:

“And Kalev quieted the nation before Moshe and said, ‘let’s go up and inherit [the land] for we are able to do so!’” (Bemidbar 13:30)

To this, his fellow tourists respond that, ‘in fact we are unable to go up against those nations; the [people] are too strong for us’. It is then that the rest of the nation hears about the failed mission – and the rest is history.

Just as ‘peculiar’, however, is that God’s exclusion of Kalev and Yehoshua from the generation’s fated death in the desert isn’t the first time Kalev is singled out either! For, after Moshe successfully pleas for the entire nation’s forgiveness, and before God metes out His death sentence only to the iniquitous generation, God states:

“‘And My servant, Kalev, who possessed a different spirit and was fulfilled in following Me, I will bring him to that Land there and his descendants will inherit it’” (Ibid 14:24)

And this Kalev-specific reward perfectly matches the Kalev-specific defiance of his fellow tourists: Kalev stated that they did have the ability to go up to the land and inherit it (“וירשנו אותה”); God rewards him here with an inheritance in the Land for his children (“וזרעו וירשנה”). It would therefore seem that while both Yehoshua and Kalev are rewarded with entering the land (as opposed to the rest of their generation), only Kalev is rewarded with an eternal inheritance within that land (as opposed to Yehoshua[1][2]!) But, how is it that fighting for God’s honor and standing up for His Divinely promised plan in the face of an angry stone-collecting mob ‘only’ grants Yehoshua (and Kalev) a ticket into the land; but ‘merely’ declaring that they have the ability and strength to conquer the land (without any mention of God) earns Kalev an Eretz Yisrael life-time inheritance?

According to God’s own statement, Kalev was deserving of this unique reward because he was of ‘different spirit’ and ‘was fulfilled in following’ God. The former description demonstrates some kind of solely individual approach or understanding; a different spirit or appreciation then that of all the people around him. The latter expresses a total devotion to God’s true command: a personal fulfillment within God’s larger plan, which, in properly following this Divine plan, Kalev successfully achieved his personal fulfillment. Additionally, both these specific descriptions are set up as the reasons for the initial, more overarching label of ‘My servant’. There are only two other people who God calls ‘My servant’ throughout the Torah: Avraham and Moshe. The former when Yitzchak is told he has nothing to fear, that his entire future and the future of his descendants is secured through God’s blessing ‘because of Avraham, My servant’ (Breishit 26:24); and the latter, when God Himself describes the unique and exclusive prophet status Moshe possesses in stern rejection of Aharon and Miriam’s erroneous comparisons (Bemidbar 12:7). In both these cases, God’s ‘servants’ are therefore appreciated as total devotees, complete Divine servants. Similarly here, we are told that Kalev, too, is seen by God as a total devotee (“עבדי”), because he has understood things totally differently than everyone else around him (“רוח אחרת עמו”) and has successfully actualized this proper understanding (“וימלא אחרי”).

But the appreciation of these descriptions only compounds our original question: how could Kalev receive such praise and be solely deserving of such a unique reward just because of such a simple, military-centric statement? Surely the strongly God-infused defense which both he and Yehoshua employed later on against the rebellious nation seems a much better ‘fit’ for the praises he receives here!

It would seem what the nation totally missed, and even Yehoshua seemed to have misunderstood, is that there was more to God’s plan than merely entering the Land. Surely crossing into the borders of Eretz Yisrael was the Divinely-intended next step in the three-staged plan promised to Avraham so many years ago. However, what we’re being told through God’s deeply praiseworthy validation of Kalev’s specific statement is that there has to be more to truly complete God’s ultimate plan for His people. While entering the Land was integral, it was still truly only a necessary ­pre-stage to the true conclusion: conquering the Land, in the name of God, to enable the commanded spiritually infused eternal existence of His people in their own land. When Kalev – and only Kalev - ‘merely’ declared their military ability to conquer the inhabiting nations, he became the only one who marked the true meaning of their entire history up until this point – actually taking the Promised Land for themselves. Anything less was a failure; and anyone who didn’t understand this completely, was removed from that ‘complete’ future. God’s intention in this specific case with these specific people – but, by extension, with all His mitzvot for all who descend from this original generation – is not merely to fulfill His commands, but to then advance because of them, to self-edify through them; to personally take the next step, to elevate to a higher plane, building off of the initial foundation which the proper fulfillment of God’s command establishes.


[1] It can be argued that Kalev, as a Knizi (i.e. not officially Bnei Yisrael), would not officially receive a territorial plot in the inheritance of Eretz Yisrael along with the rest of the tribal representatives; and this reward here, therefore, is actually Kalev-specific (because no others would ‘need’ such a promise/reward) and not necessarily to be appreciated as an ‘as-opposed-to-Yehoshua’ reward. However, 1) He’s specifically introduced here as belonging to and representing the Tribe of Yehudah; 2) throughout his numerous mentions in this episode, he’s not referred to as ‘Knizi’ – and the only time he is called Knizi in the Torah is later in Bemidbar (32) where he’s specifically mentioned in conjunction with Yehoshua as the two who will live to enter into Eretz Yisrael, i.e. not the unique reward of inheriting, too; 3) he is still singularly called out to receive a reward separate from the one he shares with Yehoshua. In other words, if Kalev ‘needed’ the added inheritance clause, why wasn’t it included in the other time he was called out for future privileges vis a vis Eretz Yisrael.

[2] And this differentiation actually bears out quite clearly in Sefer Yehoshua. The navi reports that Yehoshua gives Kalev the area of Chevron ‘just as Moshe promised’, and it is subsequently reported to have been inhabited by his children ‘until this day’ specifically because ‘he was fulfilled in following God’ (14:6-13). In reference to Yehoshua, however, it makes no specific/extra statement about an eternal inheritance through his descendants; it simply states that Yehoshua was buried in the territory of Efraim (24:30). (Interesting to note that specifically within the territory of Efraim the navi reports (17:10) that the Canani could not be ousted and remained there ‘until this day’: a distinctly incomplete eternal inheritance for Yehoshua’s family versus a complete one for Kalev’s).


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