Strength Versus Hesitation: Insights from Parashat Shelach Lecha

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by R. Eliezer Simcha Weisz

In Parashat Shelach, Yehoshua and Kalev exhibit extraordinary courage by opposing the majority opinion of the spies, who claim that conquering the Promised Land is impossible. Before sending them to scout the land, Moshe Rabbeinu changes Hoshea son of Nun’s name to Yehoshua:

אֵלֶּה שְׁמוֹת הָאֲנָשִׁים אֲשֶׁר שָׁלַח מֹשֶׁה לָתוּר אֶת הָאָרֶץ וַיִּקְרָא מֹשֶׁה לְהוֹשֵׁעַ בִּן נוּן יְהוֹשֻׁעַ (במדבר י”ג:ט”ז)

These are the names of the men whom Moshe sent to scout the land. And Moshe called Hoshea son of Nun, Yehoshua (Bamidbar 13:16).

This new name, Yehoshua, embodies a prayer that G-d will protect him from the negative influence of the other spies:

ה’ יושיעך מעצת מרגלים (תנחומא ו; סוטה ל”ד ע”ב)

May G-d save you from the counsel of the spies (Tanchuma 6; Sotah 34b).

Moshe Rabbeinu foresaw that Yehoshua would require strength and determination to stand against the majority opinion of the spies who opposed taking possession of the land.

Many question why Moshe Rabbeinu blessed only Yehoshua and changed his name, without addressing Kalev. Targum Jonathan explains that Yehoshua received this name change due to his humility:

אִלֵין שְׁמָהָן גוּבְרַיָא דְשָׁדַר מֹשֶׁה לְאַלְלָא יַת אַרְעָא וּכְדִי חֲמָא מֹשֶׁה עִנְוָותָנוּתֵיהּ קָרָא מֹשֶׁה לְהוֹשֵׁעַ בַּר נוּן יְהוֹשֻׁעַ (תרגום המיוחס ליונתן – תורה במדבר י”ג:ט”ז).

These are the names of the men Moshe sent to explore the land, and when Moshe observed his humility, he called Hoshea son of Nun, Yehoshua (Targum Yonathan on Bamidbar 13:16).

The term “his humility” (עִנְוָותָנוּתֵיהּ) appears in another context regarding the destruction of the Second Beis Hamikdosh.

ענוותנותו של רבי זכריה בן אבקולס החריבה את ביתנו, ושרפה את היכלנו, והגליתנו מארצנו (מסכת גיטין נ”ו דברי רבי יוחנן).

The humility of Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulos destroyed our house, burned our Temple, and exiled us from our land (Gittin 56a, Rabbi Yochanan’s words).

Paradoxically, humility led to the Temple’s destruction! Rabbi Zechariah’s humility is interpreted as excessive hesitation, preventing him from making decisive decisions that could have averted the Roman siege and Jerusalem’s destruction. His inability to assert and stand by his opinion, and consequently to take a firm stance, led to disastrous consequences.

The Targum attributes Yehoshua’s name change to his humility, which caused Moshe Rabbeinu to fear that Yehoshua might not stand up against the spies’ advice during their mission to Canaan. Moshe Rabbeinu’s blessing and the name change prior to the scouting mission served as both a protective measure and a reminder for Yehoshua to remain resolute and not succumb to his humility when faced with social pressure and indecision.

The concept of humility in these texts emphasizes the delicate balance required between modesty and decisiveness. In Yehoshua’s case, his humility was a personal trait that needed reinforcement to prevent it from hindering his leadership. In Rabbi Zechariah’s case, humility became a liability that led to inaction when decisive leadership was necessary. Thus, we see different facets of humility: while generally a virtue, it can have negative consequences if it leads to hesitation when decisive action is required, even in the face of majority opposition.

Kalev, conversely, demonstrated resilience in the face of adversity. Although he did not receive a unique blessing or name change like Yehoshua, Kalev showed courage by opposing the majority opinion and journeying to Hebron to pray at the patriarchs’ graves in the Cave of Machpelah. One explanation for Kalev’s strength against the spies is the support he received from his wife Miriam, a righteous woman who provided him with the encouragement needed to follow the true path. This highlights a significant advantage of married life: a spouse, referred to in the Torah as “Ezer Kenegdo” (עֵזֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֹ, a helpmate opposite him), stands beside their partner and sometimes Kenegdo challenges their beliefs, offering critical support in times of conflict and dilemmas:

וַיֹּאמֶר ה’ אֱלֹקים לֹא טוֹב הֱיוֹת הָאָדָם לְבַדּוֹ אֶעֱשֶׂה-לוֹ עֵזֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֹ (בראשית ב’:י”ח).

And the L-rd G-d said, ‘It is not good for man to be alone; I will make him a helper corresponding to him’ (Bereshis 2:18).

“Ezer” means helper, while “kenegdo” implies standing against one’s opinion or desire. Thus, sometimes a wife’s “help” may appear to contradict her husband, but in reality, she often sees the broader picture and brings it to his attention. Therefore, it is crucial for couples to recognize the value of “kenegdo” and understand that challenging one’s partner can ultimately be beneficial. Through this understanding, couples can share and solve their problems more effectively.

Yehoshua, unmarried and known for his humility, needed a name change to constantly remind him to resist the influence of the spies’ counsel, as his natural humility might have led him not to oppose their advice and, G-d forbid, follow their lead.

Ultimately, Moshe Rabbeinu’s blessing to Yehoshua emphasizes the need to maintain strength and determination in the face of adversity, especially when confronting opposition to one’s beliefs. This story teaches the importance of resilience in difficulties and remaining steadfast in the fundamentals of faith, even when they contradict prevailing opinions. The counsel of the spies also highlights the role of supportive relationships, such as those between spouses, in providing encouragement and strength during challenging decision-making times. In our current reality, where the Jewish people and religious Jews face various challenges, these lessons remain highly relevant. Additionally, considering the current challenges in Shidduchim (matchmaking), it becomes evident that an unmarried person may lack a crucial support system, emphasizing the value of a supportive partner.

About Eliezer Simcha Weisz

Rabbi Eliezer Simcha Weisz is a member of The Chief Rabbinate Council of Israel

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