Rabbi Zvi Teichman
We can only imagine the tension in the air that gripped the nation upon the return of the spies and hearing their frightening and discouraging report.
Here they were, poised to finally reap the rewards for their longed for hopes for happiness, success, and security, after so many years of suffering through slavery, to now be confronted with paralyzing fear, disappointment, and despair.
The Torah describes how Calev heroically attempts to intercede.
ויהס כלב — Calev silenced, את העם — the people, אל משה — to Moshe. עָלֹה נַעַלֶה — We shall surely ascend and occupy the land, we can do it!
His first statement, when read literally seems disconnected. What does it mean that he silenced the people — ‘to Moshe’?
Rashi explains that Calev directed the people to be quiet and listen to what Moshe has to say. Yet, Moshe never manages to get a word in edgewise.
Rav Meir Simcha, in his Meshech Chochmah, relates the reference to Moshe, not to any words he may speak, but rather to a prophecy they were privy to having previously heard how Eldad and Meidad foretold that Moshe would not lead them into the land. Panic now gripped them after hearing the spies’ dire depiction of the mighty inhabitants they would have to conquer, worrying how they could possibly accomplish that without the inspired and powerful leadership of Moshe. Calev, he suggests, ‘silenced the people to — their dependence on Moshe — exclaiming that no one, even Moshe, is indispensable, and if G-d so wills it, we can do it, even alone!
Rav Chaim, the Rav and spiritual leader of towns of Kaminsk and Walbrom, who drew from the waters of the great Chozeh of Lublin and his disciple, Rav Meir of Apta, offers a most fascinating interpretation. (זכרון חיים – שלח)
Moshe had not waned, an iota, in his belief that G-d would fulfill His promise to the nation in bringing them to the promised land, humbling the mighty inhabitants. But, when the spies failed in their mission to see the positive, their negativity infiltrating into the hearts of the nation, he momentarily lost faith, despairing, wondering whether indeed it could now come about.
Calev, he asserts, silenced the impact of the spies and the people’s negativity — to Moshe — addressing and encouraging Moshe with his confident declaration: עלה — he [Moshe] will go up, נעלה — we will follow. He can do it!
Calev sought to restore Moshe’s faith and confidence in himself, that he could accomplish the mission.
Even Moshe was vulnerable and needed the support of Calev so that he ‘may live to tell the tale’!
A cherished life-long friend, Reb Chaim Schnur, shared the following powerful story that illustrates the invaluable importance to emotionally support one another.
Rav Gad’l Eisner was one of the illustrious Gerrer chasidim before the war and became a famed mashpia — guidance counselor, after the war. He lost a wife to illness at the onset of the war, and a daughter, his only child, at the hands of the cruel enemy. He was renowned during those dark years, as he frequented ghettos, labor camps and concentration camps, as a fount of wisdom, counsel, and encouragement to the many who suffered unimaginable trauma, with many attributing to his warmth and understanding, their ability to survive.
He often described how in pre-war Poland, there were various chaburos — support groups, who met every several days to study together, inspire one another, seeking new avenues of growth in their spirituality, buoyed by bonds of deep friendship and mutual admiration.
He belonged to a particular group of inspired and accomplished avreichim — young men, who had numbered among their group one fellow who clearly surpassed them all in his stature.
In 1940 the Nazis infiltrated Warsaw and wantonly slaughtered many from this group.
During those ominous days, a report spread that this elevated member, while amid being engrossed so enthusiastically in his studies deep into the night, was disrupted by stormtroopers breaking into his home and slaughtering before his very eyes, his wife, sons and daughters. Reb Gad’l would cry each time he retold the tale, still traumatized by the overwhelming grief he sensed then, when he first heard about it.
He went on to report how several days after hearing this harrowing tale, at two in the morning he hears a furious knocking on his door. Not knowing who awaited him on the other side, he cautiously opened the door only to discover it was his dear friend who had just suffered this terrible loss.
He describes how his friend first told him to sit down, after which he went on to say the following.
“Gad’l, I am not here to seek your counsel, your reproach, nor your consent. I simply want to declare before you that I am done with G-d. Gad’l, you see this beard and peyos? Shortly they will be gone. What I have done for G-d, no one can compare. I forfeited many hours of sleep at night to toil in learning instead. I went days with meager rations, my eyes were pure, my heart holy, my mouth cleansed, and so much more. I did this all solely to fulfill His will.”
And then he raised his voice, screaming in desperation, “What did He give me in return? I heard my wife’s pleas for help, and I could not do a thing. I heard the screams of my children, and I was helpless. Is this my reward? If there is no accountability or justice, I am done!”
Reb Gad’l sat opposite him remaining silent. Engrossed in thought, he figured there was no purpose in dissuading him by quoting halacha, nor from chasidus, for his friend was more well-versed than he. He said a silent prayer and responded with the following words.
“You are right! You are justified! You gave Him your entire being and have yet to see anything in return.
“But… your friends, the members of your chaburah will never understand, nor will they ever be able to accept.”
His friend listened quietly, containing the instinct to respond, and hurriedly left.
They lost track of one another, with Reb Gad’l wondering whatever happened to his friend.
Several years later after Reb Gad’l was repatriated to Israel, as he was walking in the streets of Yerushalayim, a young man, with flowing beard and peyos, suddenly approaches him grabbing Reb Gad’s beard with his two hands, blurting out, “Gad’l, I could not respond to my wife’s desperate cries during her last moments on earth…‘but the chaburah would not understand nor would they be able to accept’, I heard the screams of my children calling out Abba! Abba! remaining helpless to their pleas… ‘but the chaburah would not understand or be able to accept’. Gad’l, I am here standing beside you in our holy city only because… ‘the chaburah would not understand nor would they be able to accept’!“
If only Calev’s words would have been heard. The entire episode spiraled out of control simply because they would not listen.
We must learn from Rashi’s approach that one can prevent a situation from getting uncontrollably out of hand if we would just stop for a moment to hear and contemplate, rather than react.
Reb Meir Simcha teaches us that we must never place our faith solely in those people or institutions that we have become deluded into thinking are our only means for salvation. It is only G-d and no one else that is the bottom line!
But Rav Chaim of Kaminsk teaches us perhaps the most vital lesson — to be there for one another.
No matter how great we think we are, we are buoyed by the friendship, encouragement, concern, care, responsibility, and hope we feel for each other that will keep us firmly implanted in the beliefs we so cherish and ensure that we will always survive whatever may come our way!