Two Leaders for the Time

  • Rav Yaakov Beasley






Two Leaders for the Time


By Rabbi Yaakov Beasley



Our parasha begins with the precise listing of twelve men appointed by Moshe Rabbeinu to scout the land of Israel.  Each one, a leader of his tribe, entrusted with the most vital mission given to the people since they received the Torah.  Unfortunately, we read with sadness and horror, bystanders powerless to affect any change, of the greatest tragedy in the history of the Jewish people – the rejection of the land of Israel and the wanderings.  It is not for naught that Chazal describe the counter-actual scenario – if Moshe Rabbeinu had led the people into the land at that moment – as ripe with messianic possibilities.  The purpose of leaving Egypt as a free people, the lessons in the desert about social justice and Hashem’s providence, all these would have come to their most glorious fruition.  Instead, we must wait forty years of purposeless meanderings through the desert, with only the deaths of the ungrateful people and the emergence of a new generation allowing the reentry into the land.  Only two men would survive – Yehoshua bin Nun, the people’s new leader, and Kalev ben Yefuneh, the leader of Shevet Yehuda who bravely stood in the breach to defend Hashem’s honor.  This week, we shall survey how these two heroes avoided the pitfalls that befell their comrades and earned the eternal gratitude of a people.  Along the way, we shall also note how the reactions of the two differ, and attempt to explain why.


Upon the return from the land of Israel, we read how the ten spies attempted to sway the minds of the people that the task before them was impossible.  The first to speak up in defense of the land was Kalev:


[The spies declared] - "However, the people that dwells in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very great, and we also saw the children of Anak there.  Amalek lives in the land of the Negev, and the Chitti and the Yevusi and the Emori dwell in the mountain, and the Canaani dwell by the sea and alongside the Yarden"

And Kalev silenced the people before Moshe and said, 'Let us go up and possess it, for we are well able to prevail over it'" (verses 28-30).


After the people are persuaded by the spies, with Moshe and Aharon powerless before them, then Yehoshua also speaks:


"And Yehoshua bin-Nun and Kalev ben-Yefuneh, of those who had spied out the land, tore their garments.  And they said to all of the congregation of Bnei Yisrael, saying: The land which we passed through to spy it out is an exceedingly good land.  If God favors us then He will bring us to this land and give it to us; a land that flows with milk and honey.  Only do not rebel against God, and have no fear of the people of the land, for they are bread for us.  Their guard has departed from them and God is with us; do no fear them.  But all the congregation said to stone them with stones" (verses 6-10).


Both Yehoshua and Kalev speak forcefully, passionately.  Together, they present the truth of the land’s goodness, though the people are longer willing to listen.  This leads to the following question – why did Yehoshua remain silent at first, only to speak out later when it appeared that the battle was already lost?


That the two behaved differently is already apparent from the descriptions of their journey to the land.  First, Yehoshua has his name changed by Moshe – Rashi notes that this change was a form of sanctuary blessing from a teacher to his closest disciple – something that Kalev (and none of the other of the spies) received.  Second, we note that apparently only Kalev made it into Chevron.  Why didn’t the others go?  Chevron, after all, was not only the city of their forefathers, it was the closest major population center to the Jews, who would have entered the land from the south.  Rav Medan suggests that the other spies saw the large inhabitants that dwelled in the vicinity, and the resulting fear caused them to lose heart.  Yet, once again, we find ourselves asking – why didn’t Yehoshua go?


Finally, we note that when Hashem punishes the people, he mentioned them twice – again differentiating between Yehoshua and Kalev:


"For all of these people who have seen My glory and My wonders which I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness, and who have tried Me these ten times, and have not listened to My voice – they will not see the land which I promised to their fathers, nor shall those who have provoked Me see it.  But My servant Kalev, since a different spirit was with him, and he followed Me fully – therefore I shall bring him to the land into which he went, and his seed will possess it." (14:22-24)

"Say to them: As I live, says God, as you have spoken in My ears, so I shall do to you.  Your carcasses will fall in this wilderness, and all those of you who were counted, by your numbers, from twenty years old and upward, who have complained against Me – you will not come to the land concerning which I swore to make you dwell there, except for Kalev ben-Yefuneh and Yehoshua bin-Nun… and the men whom Moshe sent to spy out the land, and then returned and complained about it to the entire congregation, speaking evil of the land – those men, who spoke evil of the land, will die in a plague before God.  But Yehoshua bin-Nun and Kalev ben-Yefuneh lived, of those men who had gone to spy out the land." (28-38)


As Rav Tamir Granot points out: “Kalev alone is spared the punishment of not entering the land; he alone is promised that he will possess the land.  Were the story to end here, we could regard that as confirmation of our feeling that Yehoshua indeed fell short of God's expectations when he remained silent during the buildup of the crisis.”[i]  The addition of Yehoshua in the later verses appears to be an afterthought, as if his final words were somehow enough to make up for his earlier silence. 


This distinction between Kalev and Yehoshua, we should note, occurs in two other places in the Tanakh; in Moshe’s retelling of the story in Sefer Devarim, and again in Sefer Yehoshua:


"And God heard the voice of your words and He was angry, and He swore, saying: None of those men, this evil generation, will see the good land which I promised to give to their forefathers.  Except for Kalev ben-Yefuneh – he will see it, and to him I shall give the land where he trod, and to his descendants, because he followed God wholly.  And God was also very angry with me because of you, saying: you, too, will not go in there.  But Yehoshua bin-Nun, who stands before you – he will go in there; encourage him, for he will cause Israel to inherit it." (Devarim 1:34-35)

"The children of Yehuda approached Yehoshua in Gilgal and Kalev ben-Yefuneh, the Kenizi, said to him: You know the matter of which Go-d spoke to Moshe, the man of God, concerning me and concerning you, at Kadesh-Barne'a.  I was forty years old when Moshe, God's servant, sent me from Kadesh-Barne'a to spy out the land, and I brought back word to him as was in my heart.  But my brethren who went up with me caused the heart of the people to melt, but I followed the Lord my God wholly.  And Moshe swore on that day, saying: The land where your foot trod – it shall be an inheritance for you, and for your descendants, forever, because you followed the Lord my God." (Yehoshua 14:6-9)


How are we to explain the difference?  I would like to make the following suggestion, a variation of an idea that I first learned from my teacher Rav Yaakov Medan, Rosh Ha-yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion.[ii]  First, however, I would like to bring the approach that emanates from a short Rashi on the text:


Caleb silenced: Heb. וÇיÌÇהÇס, he silenced them all [the spies so that the people could what he was going to say].

to Moshe: to hear what he would say about Moshe. He cried out, “Is this the only thing the son of Amram has done to us?” Anyone listening might have thought that he intended to disparage him, and since there was [resentment] in their hearts against Moshe because of the spies’ report, they all became silent so they could hear his defamation. But he said, “Didn’t he split the sea for us, bring down the manna for us and cause the quails to fly down to us?” - [Sota 35a]


According to this, the people eagerly awaited Kalev’s version of the events, hoping that he too would describe the dangers of the land.  Why did they not do so for Yehoshua?  Clearly, they felt that Yehoshua, as Moshe’s closest disciple, would never speak out against his teacher.  As such, his silence is justified, as he understood that the people would have rejected whatever he had to say anyways.


Rav Medan suggests that Yehoshua and Kalev represent two paradigms of leaders.  One type of leader has the strength and courage to speak the truth in all occasions, no matter the cost to personal reputation or popularity.  The second type of leader is different- while he remains passionately committed to the truth, he is also sensitive to the effect that his words have on the people he leads.  At times, silence is a preferred policy, as difficult as it may be to remain quiet.  Behind the scenes influencing and politicking may accomplish more good than dramatic declarations and chest thumping.  This is Yehoshua, a person that the Torah describes as “a man of spirit”, of whom Chazal explain:


He said to Him, “Master of the universe, the character of each person is revealed to you, and no two are alike. Appoint over them a leader who will tolerate each person according to his individual character.”- [Mid. Tankhuma Pinchas 10]


This style of leadership requires acumen, discernment and judgment.  At times, this leader will be criticized for not speaking out.  Others will accuse him of playing to the crowds for popularity.  This is why, Rav Medan suggests, Yehoshua is eventually appointed leader, not Kalev.


Along those lines, I want to revert to the distinction that Hashem makes in his threatened punishments.  Hashem suggests two punishments, with Moshe intervening in the middle.  In the first punishment, Hashem was ready to destroy the entire people, just as he intended to do after the sin of the Golden Calf.  As such, only those who spoke out without fear and compromise would be worthy of carrying the mantle forward.  This is Kalev.  However, there is a second speech, apparently distinct from the first.  Did Moshe petition Hashem during the interval in an attempt to lessen the punishment?  Or, did Hashem purposely distinguish between the punishment that He wished to inflict, as it was deserved, and the actual punishment that He was going to give?  Either way, we note that the lesson is clear – in an ideal world, our leaders should be Kalevs, unafraid and uncompromising in their devotion to truth.  He real world, however, demands that we have Yehoshuas at the helm, who know how to navigate the difficult storms of leadership, when to head boldly forward and when to tack in order to arrive at the objective.  In either case, may we be blessed to once again be led by leaders of that caliber, who combine the passion of Kalev and the acumen of Yehoshua.  Shabbat Shalom.



[i]   In his discussion of the differences between Yehoshua and Kalev, which appears on the VBM at

[ii] A summary of his approach can be found on the VBM at