Parshas Shelach brings us to the tragedy of the Meraglim, the twelve spies sent ahead of the nation to scout out Eretz Yisrael. But instead of the trip being just a formality before Bnei Yisrael arrived, the spies returned with negative reports, burying the goodness of the Land under stories of giants, fortified cities, and dangerous terrain. Even after everything they had heard from Hashem about how great the Land was, the nation believed the spies and refused to enter Eretz Yisrael. In return for this lack of faith, they were forced to spend forty years wandering in the desert, a year for each day the Meraglim traveled, and none of the adults alive at the time made it to Eretz Yisrael.
All, that is, except for two men, two of the Meraglim themselves in fact. Only these two were willing to stand up and say the truth, that Eretz Yisrael was exactly as wonderful as they had been told. These two men were Calev, representing the tribe of Yehuda, and Yehoshua, representing the tribe of Efraim. These men are well-known to us; Calev was Moshe’s brother-in-law, and one of the greatest men of his generation. His leadership was integral when Bnei Yisrael finally made it to Eretz Yisrael. And Yehoshua was Moshe’s prize pupil and his successor as the leader of the nation after Moshe’s death. The Torah tells us that they weren’t even the two greatest of the Meraglim! However, their faith in Hashem and willingness to stand up for the truth showed them to be the cream of the crop of their generation.
As the pesukim describe the spies’ journey throughout Eretz Yisrael, one has an interesting language choice. “"וַיַּֽעֲל֣וּ בַנֶּ֘גֶב֘ וַיָּבֹ֣א עַד־חֶבְרוֹן֒ וְשָׁ֤ם אֲחִימָן֙ שֵׁשַׁ֣י וְתַלְמַ֔י יְלִידֵ֖י הָֽעֲנָ֑ק “They went up in the South, and he came to Chevron, and there were…the descendants of the giant” (Bamidbar 13:22). The pasuk begins by saying that the group as a whole began in the South, traveling north, but when they get to Chevron, all of a sudden, only one of them is there! What happened?
The classic explanation given by Chazal is that Calev traveled there alone. At this point, the other spies had already planned on lying to the nation about the true state of Eretz Yisrael, and as with every peer group, but especially one comprised of the greatest people of the generation, there was a tremendous amount of pressure to comply. Calev went to Chevron to daven by the Avos at Me’aras Hamachpela for the strength to stand up to the mob and tell the truth. For this effort, he was rewarded by having the city awarded to him as part of his personal portion in Eretz Yisrael.
Rav Hirsh finds a difficulty with this explanation. If we look a little further in the pesukim, when the spies return from their mission, they say, “וְגַם־יְלִדֵ֥י הָֽעֲנָ֖ק רָאִ֥ינוּ שָֽׁם” “and there we saw the offspring of giants” (ibid: 28). (Further reference is made to giants in pasuk 33.) The only reference to giants on their mission is in our earlier pasuk, pasuk 22, which says the giants were in Chevron. If only Calev went to Chevron, how can all the spies claim to have seen the giants?
Therefore, Rav Hirsh explains it slightly differently. In fact, all the spies went on their mission with pure hearts and minds, with no thoughts of rebellion on their minds. And because they all went with pure intentions, the pasuk says “וַיָּבֹ֣א”, in the singular, to demonstrate how much they were of one mind on the subject. But once they got to Chevron and saw those giants, everything changed. Doubts and fear started taking over their minds, and they began to plan how they would lie to the nation. Upon seeing this shift, Calev made a beeline for the Me’aras Hamachpela to daven to the Avos that he should be strong against their influence. It was because of this decisive action and commitment to his tradition and faith that Calev received Chevron as part of his portion.
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