Thursday, June 11, 2015

the "ruach acheres" that motivated Kaleiv

Why did Kaleiv alone go to Chevron (How do we know no one else went? Because it says “va’yavo” in the singular, while the rest of the parsha speaks in the plural)? Rashi writes that Kaleiv went to daven at the graves of the Avos. The Netziv takes a different approach woth taking note of. He points out that the mighty giants, which the Mergalim focused on in their effort to discourage conquering the land, lived in Chevron. Chevron was, as Rashi notes, a cemetery. Chevron was, in other words, a highly fortified, difficult to conquer, unattractive piece of real estate – this is the last place you would want to visit or put on your travel brochure. Yet that’s exactly where Kaleiv chose to go. Kaleiv deliberately put himself in the eye of the storm; he deliberately entered into a situation where his bitachon in the promise that this was the land of milk and honey, that this was a land that could be conquered, was put to the greatest test. When the Torah writes about Kalaiv and Kaleiv alone that, “Eikev haysa ruach acheres imo va’yimalei acharei,” it is not referring to standing up against the other spies, as even Yehoshua did that. Rather, it is referring to this act of putting his own bitachon to the test. “Vayimalei” has a dagesh chazak, writes Netziv (31:12), because of the strength it took to pass such a test.   

The Netziv doesn’t fill in the gaps and leaves us to think about why Kaleiv would take the risk of putting himself in such a situation and what the fact that he did so says about the character of Kaleiv (=Yehudah) vs. that of the other spies, and in particular Yehoshua (=Yosef). It sounds to me like the Netziv’s approach is almost the opposite of Rashi’s. One goes to daven at kevarim when one faces a situation of danger, of doubt, of uncertainty. Doing so does not strike me as being an act of confidence. According to Rashi, it seems Kaleiv felt himself in need of help. According to the Netziv, Kaleiv was so confident in his bitachon that he felt he could put himself to an extreme test, an uncalled for test.  

The Alshich has a different hesber of why Kaleiv alone is singled out for having "ruach acheres imo."  It was Kaleiv's anscestor Yehudah who boldly asked Ya'akov Avinu, "Haker na ha'kesones bincha hi," asking whether Ya'akov recognized the bloody coat he presented as the one belonging to Yosef.  It was Yehudah who took the lead in trying to get rid of Yosef and in deceiving Ya'akov.  Even though Kaleiv, as representative of Yehudah, carried with him greater baggage of wrongdoing more than any of his peers, a "ruach acheres," that could easily have dragged him down, he rose about it.  Perhaps in light of the Netziv we could say that the daring and boldness, the confidence that he would be proven right, that Yehudah showed in the past and which led to a negative outcome, are exactly what allowed Kaleiv to not follow the lead of others and instead set out in his own direction, here to a positive end.  (The connection to the story of Yosef and his brothers is deeper than that, as Yosef's charge that "meraglim atem" speaks directly to the events of our parsha, but that's for another post another time.)

There is another important Netziv in this week’s parsha to keep in your mind when you read the news each day. “Tovah ha’aretz me’od me’od” – Eretz Yisrael is not just good, it’s very good. What does that mean? Back in Parshas Braishis the Torah tells us that when Hashem finished creation he saw that it was “tov me’od,” Chazal interpret this as a reference to the malach ha’maves. What’s good about that? The Netziv explains that when people have it too good all the time, they forget where all that goodness comes from – they take what they have for granted. The world needs a malach ha’maves / satan because the threat of things going wrong and taking a turn for the worse at any moment keeps us on our toes and reminds us that we are dependent on G-d. The world is actually a better place because of the creation of evil. When it comes to dealing with other lands, Hashem (at least as we perceive his interaction with the world) takes a hands off approach – things are as they are, same old same old. Not so in Eretz Yisrael. There, the land is “tovah.. me’od,” under constant supervision, under constant threat of things changing in response to our behavior. Nothing can be taken for granted. Yet, that very threat means we have an ongoing and constant reminder of Hashem’s presence and a relationship with Him. It makes Eretz Yisrael better than any other place in the world.

V’havi osanu el ha’aretz ha’zos u’nesana lanu eretz asher hi zavas chalav u’devash.” The Netziv points out that the modifier “zevas chalav u’devash” could have been placed after the first time “ha’aretz” appears in the pasuk. Why put it as a separate clause at the end? He answers that had it been put at the beginning, the pasuk would mean that Hashem brought us, “havi osanu…,” to a land that was in perpetuity a land of milk and honey. But that’s not the case. It’s only after we are in the land that “u’nesana lanu eretz… zavas chalav u’devash,” that we are given, if we deserve it, the blessings of it being a land of milk and honey. We have to earn those blessings and they can just as easily be taken away as given.

1 comment:

  1. Yasher koach, especially for the last Netziv. I'm not sure I understand what he means, though, when we are told that even when the Sheva Amemin were there it was an amazingly fruitful land, as proven by the enormous bunch of grapes.
    As far as Chevron, I think that just as it was from "Emek Chevron" that Yaakov sent Yosef to check on his brothers in Shechem, when Yehuda came back with the Kesones it may be that Yaakov was still in Emek Chevron and that is where the haker na took place.