Effective successors and effective leaders (Shlach-Lecha)

Parshat Shelach Lecha tells the story of the twelve spies who came to the land of Israel to find out if it was good or bad. As we know, ten of the spies returned with a negative report, while Yehoshua & Kalev – together – offered a more upbeat message.

However, as Rav Tamir Granot explains (in ‘Torah MiEtzion: Bemidbar’), Yehoshua & Kalev were not as ‘together’ as we may think, and through probing the text, he highlights a number of significant differences between them.

Upon returning to the Israelite camp and hearing the 10 spies complain how ‘the people that dwell in the land are strong’ (Bemidbar 13:28), the Torah informs us that only Kalev speaks up by silencing the people and encouraging them with his impassioned plea: ‘let us go up and possess it, for we are well able to prevail over it!’ (13:30). In fact, it is only after the 10 spies continue with their criticism and challenge Moshe and Aharon for new leaders that Yehoshua speaks with Kalev to tell the people that the land is ‘exceedingly good’ (14:7) and that it is a ‘land that flows with milk and honey’ (14:8).

Similarly, when outlining the punishment of the spies we also note a difference between Yehoshua and Kalev. Initially, God only praises Kalev stating that ‘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’ (14:24), and only later when God elucidates the punishment of the spies does He say that ‘but Yehoshua son of Nun and Kalev son of Yefuneh lives, of those men who had gone to spy out the land’ (14:38).

Then, when Moshe reviews the incident of the spies in Sefer Devarim (see Devarim 1:34-38), only Kalev seems to be singled out as being exempt from the decree of death and of being worthy to enter the land, while Yehoshua seems to be spared from the punishment because he is Moshe’s replacement ‘for he will cause Israel to inherit it’. Beyond this, we read in Sefer Yehoshua (see Yehoshua 14:6-9) how Kalev only mentions his role in standing against the negative report of the other spies.

All of this leads Rav Granot to observe how ‘Kalev features in the story of the spies as an independent leader, whose faith in God, in the nation of Israel, and in the Land of Israel is beyond any doubt or question. Yehoshua, in contrast, is not a leader by his own merits alone, but rather by virtue of his master. The fact that he is Moshe’s loyal servant is the source of his greatness and power, but also the source of his weakness. His actions in the episode of the spies is more a reflection of his loyalty than an expression of independent leadership.’

He then continues by explaining that ‘the purpose of Moshe’s mission was to bring the nation of Israel to their land. While Moshe is ultimately prevented from concluding his mission, Yehoshua follows Moshe’s path as closely as possible. Moshe is compared by Chazal to the sun, and Yehoshua to the light of the moon – which illuminates by reflecting the light of the sun. Kalev’s reaction was admittedly preferable to Yehoshua’s in that he displayed leadership, but it is precisely for this reason that he cannot replace Moshe – one who does not need Moshe in order to respond and to display leadership cannot be his replacement. From a different perspective, however, Kalev merits reward for his absolute and courageous opposition to the spies – a reward for which Yehoshua is not worthy.

There are many wonderful lessons that we can learn from the insights of Rav Granot, but to me, these are the two most significant:

i) We often read stories without paying enough attention to the details, and by looking a little more closely and those details we come to realise that there are stories within stories.

ii) Some leaders are necessary because they are effective successors, while others are needed because they are effective leaders.


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