By Rav Jesse Horn
Although both Yehoshua and Kalev returned from their mission as the only two spies reporting positively about Israel, there seems to be a great difference between the two. Throughout the Torah, Yehoshua receives a great amount of coverage (Shemot 17, 32, 33, Bamidbar 11, 27, 32 Devorim 1, 3, and 31) while Kalev almost none. Yet in our particular story, Kalev, not Yehoshua quiets the nation and attempts to optimistically encourage them to conquer Israel. Why the role reversal?
This highlights a question that begs to be asked. Why is there so little information presented to us about Kalev? Did he live an uneventful life, or is the Torah making a point with its silence? Perhaps a deeper look at how Kalev is portrayed elsewhere in the Bible and Rabbinic teachings may enable us to see a greater picture of who Kalev was and in turn what the Torah is teaching with its silence.
The coverage of Kalev in the book of Yehoshua (14) is far more extensive than in Bamidbar (13). It describes how he receives his reward, the city of Hebron, for returning to the nation with a positive report of the land of Israel. Yet oddly, when Kalev approaches Yehoshua to make his request, he is accompanied by the entire tribe of Yehudah (Yehoshua 14:6) assisting him in asking for land to which he was entitled (Metzudat Dovid, Yehoshua 14:6). Why did they need to help him? Why could he not have gone alone?
Perhaps Kalev, with his soft temperament, was reserved, and struggled in voicing his request. Precisely for that reason, the tribe of Yehudah stands ups and accompanies him. Reinforcing this theory, the Navi records how they saw Kalev as a “brother” (Yehoshua 14:8), for Kalev was one of them, one of masses. Kalev was regular, a great supporter, but not a leader. Accordingly, Kalev may not have been mentioned anywhere else in Chumash because of this reserved personality.
This image is furthered buttressed by the Talmud (Sotah 34b) which famously states that Kalev left the other spies to go pray in Hebron, by the burial site of our forefathers and mothers (Avraham, Sarah, Yitzhak, Rivkah, Yaakov and Leah), for the strength to overcome the great challenge of returning with a positive report about Israel.
Because of Kalev’s role as a starboard member of the group and not separated as a leader, he had a greater struggle, and therefore a greater need to separate himself from the group and go to Hebron. There Kalev went to pray near our forefathers, the perfect place for the inner strength needed to identify with the right values and return to Bnei Yisrael with an optimistic report.
Moreover, it was specifically Kalev who was successful in quieting the nation (Bamidbar 13:30). Precisely because Kalev was seen as one of the regular people they saw him as unbiased, and wanted to hear his perspective.
Many (Rashi and Metzudat Dovid on Yehoshua 14:7) even remark that through the journey to Israel, Kalev kept his cards close to his chest, and did not reveal his true colors, telling the other spies that he planned on joining them in their critique of Israel upon returning.
The Talmud (Sotah 35a) and Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 15:19) add that when Kalev quieted down the people, he did it in a misleading and almost deceitful way. He opened by questioning, “Is that all Ben Amram did?” and people assumed he was going to be critical, yet, he continued with all of the positive things that Moshe did. This image further depicts Kalev as one of the masses and not separated as a leader. No one would have suspected that Yehoshua would critique Moshe.
In contrast to Kalev, stories and remarks about Yehoshua appear all through-out the Torah, simply because he was Moshe’s primary student being (Gr”a no Yehoshua 1:1) groomed to take over him. It was precisely for this reason that Moshe specifically changed Yehoshua’s name [although there is a debate whether that occurred immediately before the sending of the spies (Seforno and Malbim on Bamidbar 13:16) or at an earlier occasion and the Torah just mentioned it here (Rashbam and Netziv on Bamidbar 13:16)]. Yehoshua was the one who Moshe can count on to return with a positive report (Rashi on Bamidbar 13:16).
There are two important religious conclusions to draw. The more obvious and classic lesson to learn from Kalev is to create an environment where one can succeed religiously; in his case putting himself in a location, Hebron, which raised the odds of religious triumph. However, there is a second and more subtle yet national and global message. Heroes are not always leaders. The masses and supporters often navigate and control the movement of society more than the leaders. Both types of people are needed and are of equal religious value (Bereshit Rabbah 1:15).
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