Yehoshua and Kalev

  • Harav Mosheh Lichtenstein





With gratitude and in honor of the bar mitzva,
this year b'ezrat Hashem, of our twin sons,
Michael and Joshua - Steven Weiner and Lisa Wise



Parashat shelach



Yehoshua and Kalev

Translated by Kaeren Fish



As we know, Kalev son of Yefuneh and Yehoshua son of Nun were the two spies who were not caught up in the sin of their colleagues. However, a closer look at the text – both in our parasha and in Sefer Devarim, where the episode is recalled – show some fundamental differences between these two men, sketching portraits of two very different characters.


A.           The sin of the spies


In our parasha, Kalev alone speaks up courageously against the other spies: “Kalev silenced the people for Moshe and he said: We should certainly go up and take possession of [the land], for we are certainly able to overcome it” (Bamidbar 13:30). Kalev is not fazed by the discouraging report voiced by the spies and the fearful response on the part of the people; he states his belief proudly and bravely, without any softening of his message.


Yehoshua, while later joining Kalev in rending his garments (Bamidbar 14:6), tries to avoid a direct confrontation with the people.


Kalev and Yehoshua find themselves facing the same dilemma that presented itself to Aharon and Chur when they were confronted with the sin of the golden calf: is it better to state the pure and unvarnished truth, thereby provoking wild conflict, or should conflict be avoided as far as possible, with a view to maintaining the ability to influence in a positive way in the future? Chur paid for his choice with his life, and a similar fate would have met Kalev were it not for Divine intervention (Bamidbar 14:10).


B.           Entering the land


The fundamental difference between Yehoshua and Kalev is highlighted in the reasons that the Torah gives for their entry into the land, in contrast to the other spies. This point is emphasized most clearly at the beginning of Sefer Devarim:


“God heard the words that you spoke and He swore, saying: Not a single one of these men, this evil generation, will see the good land which I promised to give to your forefathers, except for Kalev son of Yefuneh – he shall see it, and I shall give the land where he trod to him and to his children, since he wholly followed God. God was angry with me [i.e., Moshe], too, on your account, saying, You also shall not go in to there. Yehoshua son of Nun, who stands before you – he shall go in there. Encourage him, for he shall make it an inheritance for Israel” (Devarim 1:34-38).


Kalev merits who enter the land by virtue of his conduct at the time of the sin of the spies, when he refused to disobey God and tried with all his might to deter the people from this sin, endangering his very life. As our parasha formulates the reason: “And My servant Kalev son of Yefuneh, since he had a different spirit about him and he followed Me wholly – I shall bring to the land into which he came, and his seed shall inherit it” (Bamidbar 14:24).


Kalev enters the land as an individual, owing to his actions as an individual. His right to the land is mentioned in the same breath as the fate of the generation of the wilderness, who were punished as a result of their different response to the same event. The sinners were punished and did not enter the land, while Kalev conducted himself properly and merited to enter the land.


Even after Am Yisrael enter and take possession of the land, Kalev is depicted as a friendly old man who tells his grandchildren stories about the period of the spies; he seems detached from any national or public activity. Kalev is concerned about the conquest of his own inheritance; thereafter we hear nothing more about him.


Yehoshua, in contrast, does not enter the land as an individual, but rather as the leader of the next generation. He is not punished with death in the wilderness – but nor is he mentioned has having any special right to enter the land; the matter of his entry or non-entry depends on the generation to which he belongs. If he is counted with the generation of the wilderness, he will die a natural death, like all of that generation, and will not enter the land. If he is appointed to lead the generation that enters the land, then he will enter along with them. Ultimately, Yehoshua is appointed as the leader of the next generation and he does enter the land. Why?


C.           Two approaches


We have before us two modes of response to the sin of the spies – or, on a more elementary level, two different approaches to the sinful nation. Kalev’s approach of stating the plain and sharp truth to a defeatist, weeping nation, defends God’s honor by refusing to allow the spiritual and political stage to be appropriated by the more numerous sinners and their negative designs, and by presenting the pure truth at all costs. Like Chanania, Mishael and Azaria later on, Kalev has the opportunity to sanctify God’s Name in public, in a situation where no one else does so.


Yehoshua takes a different approach, involving much less conflict with the nation in real time, and a much greater attempt to maintain influence over them in the future. Of course, he does not agree with the report presented by the other spies, but at the same time he is not party to Kalev’s sharp attack on the people. He chooses to focus his efforts on the education and leadership of the younger generation for the duration of their wanderings in the wilderness. The results of his educational influence are sustained throughout the years of his leadership and even beyond: “And Israel served God all the days of Yehoshua and all the days of the elders who came after Yehoshua” (Yehoshua 24:31).


In summary, Kalev enters into a direct and determined dispute with the spies, and merits to sanctify God’s Name amongst the nation. For this reason he is given a Divine reward, which is maintained for his descendants forever. Yehoshua, on the other hand, chooses his response with a view to rehabilitating the nation and leading the next generation in the shadow of this crisis. Both men acted meritoriously; both together managed to prevent a total and absolute desecration of God’s Name, and the foundation for the entry into the land by the next generation was thereby created.