The Next Generation

  • Harav Mosheh Lichtenstein







The Next Generation

Translated by David Silverberg



            Last week, we saw that in response to the prophecy-criticism of Eldad and Meidad, Moshe changes course with respect to his leadership of Am Yisrael.  Whereas until then he had remained "outside the camp," detached from the nation's petty murmuring and gluttonous yearnings for meat, he now "reentered the camp" (11:30).  He is now prepared to work with the nation from within, rather than condemning their complaints from without.  We then asked, why was this decision ineffective?  Why was this new policy of Moshe followed by the nation's continued deterioration, culminating with the sin of scouts, as we read in Parashat Shelach?


A.  The Spies


            In order to answer this question, we must conduct a careful study of the episode of the spies.  Among the more surprising features of this incident is the list of people chosen for the spy mission.  Besides Yehoshua, we have not encountered any of the scouts earlier in Chumash.  We thus deal with an inexperienced, unknown team charged with this task.  We could have perhaps easily explained this in light of the simple fact that the scouts embarked on a purely military scouting mission, involving no communal function.  There was no need, then, to select for this job known leaders, but rather professional military men.  However, the crisis that surfaces upon their return is due precisely to the fact that this constituted not a standard, routine survey of territory, but rather a mission of a communal nature, that was composed in accordance with its nature and communal function.  After all, Moshe did not dispatch a small group of secret spies, but rather a delegation consisting of representatives from all the tribes, men whose tribes saw them as respected leaders, as the text itself testifies: "send one man from each of their ancestral tribes, each one a chieftain among them" (13:2).  Additionally, a point was made to select men who had earned the respect of the entire nation: "all the men being leaders of the Israelites" (13:3).  Needless to say, these considerations are hardly suitable as criteria for a surveillance unit sent to collect information, but rather for a representative delegation.  The question thus arises, who are these unknown individuals, whom the Torah describes as "chieftains" and "leaders of the Israelites"?


            I would suggest that the scouts were selected specifically because they were unknown.  Whereas until know the leadership has come from the elders, in the wake of Eldad and Meidad's call for a transition to a younger leadership Moshe appoints men from Yehoshua's generation to participate in the scouting delegation.  In place of Nachshon, the senior chieftain of the tribe of Yehuda, came the younger leader, Kalev, and so with each of the twelve tribes.


            It would appear that this replacement of the older leadership with a younger group more in tune with the state of mind of the new generation contributed to the failure of the scouts.  To substantiate this claim, we must examine the components of chet ha-meraglim (the sin of the spies) and the function played by the leadership in this tragic incident.


B.  The Mission


            The commentators raise two basic approaches as to the purpose of dispatching the scouts: 1) it served as a military mission to assist in the conquest of the land; 2) to foster an attachment of the Jewish people to the land.  Both these elements appear in the assignment with which Moshe charges them:


"See what kind of country it is.  Are the people who dwell in it strong or weak, few or many?  Is the country in which they dwell good or bad?  Are the towns they live in open or fortified?  Is the soil rich or poor?  Is it wooded or not…" (13:18-20)


            As we emphasized, however, the composition and nature of the delegation itself seem more suitable for the second purpose, which, apparently, appeared to be the central function as Moshe saw it.  Following the incident of Kivrot Ha-ta'ava and the state of mind that it revealed amongst Benei Yisrael, this mission was dispatched in an attempt to impress upon the nation the goodness of the land and to endear it to them, by showing them its fruit and describing it to them.  The more Benei Yisrael would sense that they would soon leave the wilderness and enter their new land, the fewer problems they could expect along the way.  For this purpose Moshe sent the scouts after the debacle of Kivrot Ha-ta'ava.


            In effect, the message demanded from the scouts to encourage the nation had to be a two-tiered one.  First, they would have to show the goodness that awaits them in the land; second, that they are fully capable of seizing it.  Without the first message, the people will have no desire to continue forward towards the land; without the second, they would despair and make no attempt at the conquest.  The need for both these messages flows from the same root – the nation's inability and unwillingness to take upon itself challenges and objectives.  Struggle, confrontation and responding to the need of the hour without expecting to taste of the fruits of the land do not speak to the hearts of the weary nation.  They want fruit.  Endearing the land to them thus entails emphasizing its agricultural qualities and fertile soil.


            Yet, the tragic irony of this situation is that specifically the personality and approach of the elders would have better suited this task.  True, the scouts, who belonged to the new generation, indeed felt genuine appreciation for the goodness of the land and its fruit; however, they also confronted the challenge of capturing the land and displacing its inhabitants.  The land, its quality and fruits are indeed impressive, but so is the might of its inhabitants and their fortified cities.  The scouts are seized with terror when confronting this challenge, and this fear is conveyed to the people.  Despairing of the possibility of capturing the land, and not a lack of appreciation, lies at the heart of the chet ha-meraglim.  They do not reject the beautiful land itself, but rather the effort required to occupy it.  This point emerges clearly from both the verses in Sefer Bemidbar describing the events as they unfold, as well as from Moshe's analysis of the incident years later, from a more distant perspective:


"They told him and said: 'We came to the land you sent us to; it does indeed flow with milk and honey, and this is its fruit.  However, the people who inhabit the country are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large; moreover, we saw the children of giants there.  Amalekites dwell in the Negev region; Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites inhabit the hill country; and Canaanites dwell be the sea and along the Jordan.'  Kalev hushed the people before Moshe and said, 'Let us by all means go up, and we shall gain possession of it, for we shall surely overcome it.'  But the men who had gone up with him said, 'We cannot attack that people, for it is stronger than we.'  They spread calumnies among the Israelites about the land they had scouted, saying, 'The country that we traversed and scouted is one that devours its settlers.  All the people that we saw in it are men of great size; we saw the Nefilim there, giants among the Nefilim, and we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them.'" (Bemidbar 13:27-33)


"They took some of the fruit of the land with them and brought it down to us.  And they gave us this report: 'It is a good land that the Lord our God is giving to us.'  Yet you refused to go up, and flouted the command of the Lord your God.  You sulked in your tents and said, 'It is because the Lord hates us that He brought us out of the land of Egypt, to hand us over to the Amorites to wipe us out.  Where are we going?  Our kinsmen have taken the heart out of us, saying, 'We saw there a people stronger and taller than we, large cities with walls sky-high, and even giants.'"  (Devarim 1:25-29)


            The deep despair that flows from the people's general spiritual state arises very clearly from the bottom-line consensus that the scouts convey to Moshe and the people: "we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them." 


            Paradoxically, specifically with this spiritual danger, the elders, who led the struggle in Egypt, were far better suited to deal.  They, who harbored no fear towards Pharaoh's taskmasters as they suffered as slaves under the whip, who did not hesitate to oppose the Egyptian oppressors, would certainly not have been deterred by the military might of the Canaanite peoples.  On the other hand, though, we may assume that sending the elders would not have helped significantly in enlisting the people for the effort required or convincing them of the goodness of the land.  A dilemma with no solution has evolved.  Dispatching the elders would have deepened the national crisis and the gap between the leadership and the public, which would not have been convinced of the very need to enter the land.  Conversely, selecting a younger delegation could be effective in impressing upon the nation the quality of the land, but could also bring them to despair.  There was no choice, then, other than selecting outstanding individuals from the younger generation in the hope that they could rise to the challenge and bring the nation along with them.  If they had not become frightened as a result of their lack of trust in God, if they had not been dragged along by the people's loss of resolve, they would have been the only ones capable of changing the picture.  As Eldad and Meidad claimed, the older leadership would have no impact on those who longed for meat and comfort, the ones who set the tone for the rest of the nation.  Only a fresh leadership from within this layer could tap the slumbering reservoirs of strength and bring about the necessary transformation.  But instead of awakening the nation, the scouts were frightened, and they engendered despair and terror.


            It turns out, then, that the selection of the young scouts in response to the sin of Kivrot Ha-ta'ava contributed tragically to the birth of chet ha-meraglim and its severe consequences.  In order to bring the nation into the land, there was no choice but to select "chieftains" with leadership potential from within the younger generation; and this is exactly what Moshe did.  Moshe did not, however, realize that they were not prepared to meet the challenges that stood before them.  He thus allowed them to embark on this fateful mission, thereby contributing to the tragic result.


C.  Kalev and Yehoshua


"They said one to another, 'Let us make a captain and return to Egypt.'  Then Moshe and Aharon fell on their faces before all the assembled congregation of the Israelites.  Yehoshua son of Nun and Kalev son of Yefuneh, of those who had scouted the land, rent their clothing and exhorted the whole Israelite community: 'The land that we traversed and scouted is an exceedingly good land.'" (Bemidbar 14:4-7)


            The response to the sin of the spies also illustrates the gap that has developed between the generations.  Moshe, Aharon and the elders cannot oppose the nation or deal with them; they simply "fell on their faces."  Kalev and Yehoshua, meanwhile, members of the younger generation, stand up to the people and try to uplift their spirits.  Belonging to the younger stratum, the generation of the wilderness, Kalev and Yehoshua are not taken aback, they don’t feel hopeless in opposing the nation, as do Moshe and Aharon.


[In effect, this response of Moshe marks the culmination of a process.  After Benei Yisrael's first complaint in Sefer Bemidbar, not only is Moshe not disheartened, but he prays on their behalf (Bemidbar 11:2); in response to the second complaint (Kivrot ha-Ta'ava), he turns to the Almighty for assistance, whereas here, in the incident of the spies, Moshe is simply paralyzed and cannot react.  This is not just a gradual progression; rather, each time the severity of the complaint increases and even encompasses broader sectors within the nation.  Correspondingly, Moshe's ability to handle these problems gradually diminishes.]


Kalev, who demonstrates courage and the preparedness to oppose the despair and spiritual fatigue of his generation, expresses the leadership qualities that his colleagues were to embody.  But given that the rest of the entire delegation do not support their position, but rather seek to undermine it, their efforts are futile and destined for failure from the outset.


            In this context, it is worth noting the distinction between Kalev and Yehoshua in their reaction to their colleagues.  As we can see from the narrative, only Kalev speaks out forcefully against the scouts, even when Yehoshua remains silent: "Kalev hushed the people and said, 'Let us by all means go up, and we shall gain possession of it, for we shall surely overcome it'" (13:30).  True, they both rend their garments and together express their positive stance:


"Yehoshua son of Nun and Kalev son of Yefuneh, of those who had scouted the land, rent their clothing and exhorted the whole Israelite community: 'The land that we traversed and scouted is an exceedingly good land.  If the Lord is pleased with us, He will bring us into that land, a land that flows with milk and honey, and give it to us; only you must not rebel against the Lord.  Have no fear then of the people of the country, for they are our prey: their protection has departed from them, but the Lord is with us.  Have no fear of them!'" (14:6-9)


Nevertheless, Kalev opposes the nation more directly and overtly.  He is not inhibited by them at all; he expresses his view with force and pride, without softening his words.  This approach, however, will not succeed under the conditions that have emerged.  Yehoshua therefore does not join him, trying as much as possible to avoid a direct confrontation with the nation.  Both he and Kalev face the same dilemma as Aharon and Chur encountered during the worship of the golden calf.  Is it preferable to preach the absolute truth while confronting an unrestrained, incited mob, or should one avoid confrontation as much as possible, in order to preserve the possibility of positive influence changing the situation that has emerged? (See Sanhedrin 7a.)  Kalev's confrontational approach resembles that of Chur, whereas Yehoshua foregoes on the direct confrontation out of a desire and hope to allow for positive influence in the future.


            This distinction between Yehoshua and Kalev is expressed in the Torah's explanation of the merits by which they are permitted to enter the land.  Whereas Kalev is presented as earning entry into the land because of his praiseworthy leadership during the incident of the spies, Yehoshua does not enter for this reason.  Rather, he enters because he is the leader of the generation that would enter Eretz Yisrael.  This point is made very clear towards the beginning of Sefer Devarim:


"The Lord heard the sound of your words and He was angry and vowed: Not one of these men, this evil generation, shall see the good land that I swore to give to your fathers – none except Kalev son of Yefuneh; he shall see it, and to him and his descendants will I give the land on which he set foot, because he remained loyal to the Lord.  Because of you the Lord was incensed with me, too, and He said: You shall not enter it either.  Yehoshua son of Nun, who attends you, he shall enter it.  Imbue him with strength, for he shall allot it to Israel.  Moreover, your little ones who you said would be carried off, your children who do not yet know good from bad, they shall enter it; to them will I give it and they shall possess it."  (Devarim 1:34-39)


In this passage, Moshe clearly distinguishes between Kalev and Yehoshua.  Only Kalev inherits the land as reward for his action during the incident of the spies.  Yehoshua, by contrast, earns entry not as reward, but due to his role as leader of the next generation.  The verses therefore separate the two men from one another.  It mentions Kalev's merit in the same breath as the fate of the generation of the wilderness, since his fate, too, results from that event.  Yehoshua's fate, however, is mentioned in conjunction with that of Moshe, since his future follows from Moshe's death in the wilderness, and not the decree resulting from chet ha-meraglim.


            In effect, Kalev earns his portion in the land as reward for the devotion he demonstrated; his portion was thus given to him and his offspring as a personal gift.  He receives his portion not as part of Benei Yisrael's general inheritance of the land, but rather as a private bequest.  These verses therefore emphasize that the portion is bequeathed to Kalev and his children, and the designation of "the land on which he set foot" as his personal portion – despite the fact that the land has yet to be apportioned among the tribes.  Yehoshua, on the other hand, was not sentenced to die in the wilderness, but neither did he earn the right to enter the land as a special privilege.  Yehoshua's entry or barred entry depends on the generation to which he will belong.  If he will be counted among the generation of the wilderness, then he will die a natural death – not as a punishment – in the wilderness.  If, however, he will be considered a member of the generation entering the land, he will enter with them.  The Torah therefore does not designate any specific area for his allotment, for before the general distribution of the land we cannot speak of certain places earmarked for given individuals.  For the same reason the Torah makes no mention of Yehoshua's offspring, for we deal here not with a private grant that becomes a family estate, but rather part of Benei Yisrael's inheritance of the land as a whole.


            In Sefer Bemidbar, too, we detect a distinction between Yehoshua and Kalev in terms of their portions in the land.  In discussing the generation of the meraglim and their fate, the Torah mentions only Kalev as the one from that generation who earned entry into the land.  In this context, no mention is made of Yehoshua:


"Nevertheless, as I live and as the Lord's Presence fills the whole world, none of the men who have seen My Presence and the signs that I have performed in Egypt and in the wilderness, and who have tried Me these ten times and have disobeyed Me, shall see the land that I promised on oath to their fathers; none of those who spurn Me shall see it.  But My servant Kalev, because he was imbued with a different spirit and remained loyal to Me - him will I bring into the land that he entered, and his offspring shall hold it as a possession." (Bemidbar 14:21-24)


When, however, the Torah emphasizes not only the barred entry of the scouts, but also the entry of the next generation into the land, Yehoshua is then mentioned together with Kalev as among those permitted to enter Canaan:


"Say to them: As I live, says the Lord, I will do to you just as you have spoken in My ears.  In this very wilderness shall your carcasses drop.  Of all of you who were recorded in your various lists from the age of twenty years up, you who have muttered against Me, not one shall enter the land in which I swore to settle you – except for Kalev son of Yefuneh and Yehoshua son of Nun.  Your children who, you said, would be carried off – these will I allow to enter; they shall know the land that you have rejected."  (ibid., 28-32)


            In conclusion, Kalev wages a tenacious, head-on confrontation against the spies, bringing about a public kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God's Name); for this he receives a reward from the Almighty for himself and his offspring for all time.  Yehoshua, on the other hand, calculated his steps such that he can rehabilitate the nation and lead the next generation in the aftermath of the crisis.  Through the efforts of both, an absolute chillul Hashem (desecration of God's Name) is avoided, allowing for the infrastructure that will facilitate the entry of the next generation into the land.