Rabbi Harel Gordin
Former Rosh Kollel in Manhattan


When the meraglim (the spies) return from their mission, they declare:

“The people who inhabit the Land are mighty, and the cities are fortified and very great.” (Bamidbar 13:28)

In stark contrast to their display of cowardice, Calev attempts to stave off the melancholy besetting Bnei Yisrael. He interrupts the other meraglim’s report:

“Calev silenced the people toward Moshe.” (Bamidbar 13:30)

Then, Calev preempts his colleagues and pronounces:

“We shall surely go up and take possession of it, for we can surely overcome it.” (Bamidbar 13:30)

But the meraglim do not give in and immediately retort:

“We cannot go up against the people, for they are stronger than us… The Land through which we passed, to scout it, is a land which consumes its inhabitants…” (Bamidbar 13:31-32)

The nation reacts accordingly:

“The entire assembly lifted up and issued their voices; and the people wept on that night.” (Bamidbar 14:1)

Interestingly, Yehoshua is seemingly absent from this entire scene. In fact, he only makes an appearance after the nation revolts against Moshe and Aharon and cries:

“Let us appoint a leader and let us return to Egypt.” (Bamidbar 14:4)

Yehoshua’s silence prior to this point is particularly surprising in light of the fact that we know that he is Moshe’s mesharet (“servant”) and successor as leader of Am Yisrael. We would have expected him to be the one to negate his fellow meraglim’s discouraging words and to encourage the nation about the viability of conquering Eretz Yisrael. Yet, instead, we find that Yehoshua initially holds his peace.

In order to understand Yehoshua’s approach, we must first examine his attitude towards Eretz Yisrael – an attitude which is fundamentally different from Calev’s position. Parshat Shlach teaches us that Moshe has to change Yehoshua’s name in order that the latter succeed in his mission:

“And Moshe called Hoshea the son of Nun, Yehoshua.” (Bamidbar 13:16)

The addition of the letter yud – which represents Hashem’s Name – binds the teshuah (salvation) inherent in the name, “Hoshea,” with the Divine Presence. In other words, emunah (faith) is a necessary precondition for the mission’s success.

But why did Calev not require this extra reinforcement? The answer is that Calev is a descendant of Yehudah, whose name contains Hashem’s Name. Calev comes to leadership naturally, as the pasuk states:

“The scepter shall not depart from Yehudah.” (Breishit 49:10)

However, Yehoshua – from Shevet Ephraim – is identified with life’s physical and material aspects, like his forebear, Yosef:

“Who was the provider to all the people of the land.” (Breishit 42:6)

Similarly, Moshe blesses Yosef:

“Blessed by Hashem is his land; with the sweetness of the heavens with dew, and with the deep waters crouching below.” (Devarim 33:13)

Yehoshua’s connection to life’s material side is the reason he is chosen to lead Bnei Yisrael into Eretz Yisrael. At the same time, however, this quality means that he needs to be balanced and strengthened. The additional yud enables Yehoshua to serve as Moshe’s mesharet. As Chazal state:

“Moshe’s face is like the face of the sun, and Yehoshua’s face is like the face of the moon.”

The moon is strengthened by the light of the sun, and the combination of the imposed Divine Presence, a deep religious conviction, and Yehoshua’s own inherent talents ensures that he will successfully overcome the physical challenges which he is to face in Eretz Yisrael.

Hence, when the discussion concerned the viability of conquering Eretz Yisrael, Yehoshua did not play an active role. However, Calev – who embodies a natural Divine Presence – can easily participate in this conversation and declare:

“For we can surely overcome it.” (Bamidbar 13:30)

But Yehoshua must remain silent.

Yet, when the nation starts to complain about Divine Providence and about Moshe and Aharon, Yehoshua immediately intervenes. As soon as Bnei Yisrael fume:

“Why is Hashem bringing us to this land to fall by the sword…” (Bamidbar 14:3)

Yehoshua takes charge:

“Yehoshua, the son of Nun, and Calev, the son of Yephuneh, who were among those who had scouted the land, tore their garments. And they said… the land is very, very good.” (Bamidbar 14:6-7)

This time, Yehoshua and Calev do not suffice with Am Yisrael’s ability to conquer the Land. Rather, they adopt a theological approach:

“If Hashem desires us, He will bring us to this land… But you shall not rebel against Hashem… and Hashem is with us, do not fear them.” (Bamidbar 14:8- 9)

Thrice, Hashem’s intervention in the war’s outcome is stressed.

Yehoshua, who symbolizes the physical and natural world, is the one to emphasize that the conquest’s success depends on the nation’s emunah and Hashem’s involvement in the process. As Moshe’s disciple and as a leader of Shevet Ephraim, Yehoshua represents the synthesis of the natural world and the world of emunah.

Yet, why was Calev – with his inborn connection to the Divine Presence – not chosen to lead Bnei Yisrael into Eretz Yisrael in lieu of Yehoshua? Perhaps we can say that Calev’s inborn connection – which is shared by Mashiach ben David – will be relevant only at a later stage of geulah (salvation), when the material has truly been fused with the spiritual. But during the early stages, the two are still separate, and thus, a conscious and external effort is necessary to reconcile the two polar opposites.

Clearly, this type of reconciliation leads to a dichotomy. Nevertheless, a concerted effort and much patience can slowly reduce the gap. In the meantime, we must simultaneously grasp two distinct approaches and recognize that eventually the extremes will be fully and harmoniously merged. In other words, the Tree of Ephraim will be united with the Tree of Yehudah.