One of the more interesting things about the Torah is how the stories told there seem to repeat themselves as time goes on. The theme of the younger brother usurping the role of the elder is played out with Abel and Cain (Cain was the second brother), Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob, and Joseph and his ten older brothers. We see how Judah spares Benjamin from slavery while in Egypt and centuries later, it is Esther and Mordecai, descendants of Benjamin, saving the entire tribe of Judah as well as Benjamin from annihilation under the edict of the evil Haman.
Story after story seems to replay itself out to resolve some ancient hurt from prior times. It is why we must never judge circumstances that befall us as bad, because God has all of time to work it out. It’s why we must never think our opportunity to help someone is mere coincidence since we are likely a player in God’s efforts to right a wrong that maybe occurred decades perhaps even generations before.
In this week’s portion Sh’lah L’kha we have another replaying of an old story. We read about the Ten Spies who spoke badly of the Land of Canaan, overriding the good report from Caleb and Joshua, and convincing the Israelites that they would surely die if they tried to move into the Land.
To backtrack the story, it’s important to know which tribes Caleb and Joshua represented. We read that Caleb was from the tribe of Judah and Joshua was from the tribe of Ephraim. If you remember your history from Genesis, Ephraim was the son of Joseph. He along with his brother Manasseh were named by their grandfather Jacob as being direct heirs and so we have two tribes from Joseph. That’s the double blessing reserved for the older son of Jacob’s beloved Rachel.
However, as you read who represented Manasseh, you see that Numbers 13:11 says, “For the tribe of Joseph, for the tribe of Manasseh, Gaddi the son of Susi.” The reference to Joshua merely says, “For the tribe of Ephraim, Hoshea the son of Nun.” (Vs. 8).
If you remember back, Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. Why? Because Joseph repeatedly gave bad reports to his father about the brothers. Joseph’s slander (lashon hara!) against them earned their ill will and when Jacob sent the youngest one out to ”check up on” his brothers, they threw him in a pit. The plan was to kill him, but Judah stepped in and ”saved” him by suggesting they sell him instead. This set a plan into motion that resulted in Joseph becoming viceroy of Egypt. When famine hit Canaan and the brothers were forced to go to Egypt seeking food, Joseph called them spies—meraglim in Hebrew—a term used to refer to the twelve men sent to scout the land of Canaan.
In another similarity, we learn that Joseph spoke dibatam raah, evil speech about his brothers, and the ten spies spoke dibat ha’aretz or evil speech about the Land. We see the sin of Joseph played out by Gaddi, named as being from the tribe of Joseph and Manasseh by speaking slander about Canaan, but Caleb redeems the name of Joseph by countering the bad report of the other spies.
Caleb silenced the people to [hear about] Moses, and he said, ’We can surely go up and take possession of it, for we can indeed overcome it.’
But the men who went up with him said, ’We are unable to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we.’
They spread an [evil] report about the land [dibat ha’aretz] which they had scouted, telling the children of of Israel, "The land we passed through to explore is a land that consumes its inhabitants, and all the people we saw in it are men of stature. There we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, descended from the giants. In our eyes, we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes."
Of course, the Israelites were terrified of the report from the ten and threatened mutiny against Moses and Aaron. They even threatened to stone Caleb and Joshua for speaking positively about Canaan.
Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had scouted the land, tore their clothes. They spoke to the entire congregation of the children of Israel, saying, ’The land we passed through to scout is an exceedingly good land. If the LORD desires us, He will bring us to this land and give it to us, a land flowing with milk and honey.
But you shall not rebel against the LORD, and you will not fear the people of that land for they are as our bread. Their protection is removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them."
The descendants of Judah and Joseph were not only reconciled through forgiveness (the story in Genesis), but by standing together against the other spies, they were united as a common front before the rest of the community, standing as one in defense of the Land. For this, they were the only ones of their generation who did not perish in the wilderness. Even Moses, Aaron, and Miriam died before entering Canaan. The reward for Caleb and Joshua was that they endured and lived to see God’s promise fulfilled.
The lessons in this portion are rich with relevance. Aside from avoiding lashon hara and not assuming it’s mere coincidence when we find ourselves in unique circumstances, we can learn something about standing up for what is true. We may not always know exactly what God wants from us, but we can trust in his promises. In the face of overwhelming opposition, Caleb and Joshua continued to trust that God’s promises were for them. Even when threatened with bodily harm, they stood fast. We too should not shrink from stating what is right and true in the face of the opposition of others.
Joshua and Caleb also understood their mission better than the other scouts. They were sent to bring a report that was true, but were not invited to make recommendations other than that which was promised their ancestors. They understood that they were brought out of Egypt for a reason, they were redeemed for a purpose.
We too have been redeemed though I would challenge you to think of that redemption in a less ordinary way. When something is redeemed it is returned to it’s original owner in trade for something of value. We are redeemed by God, returned to Him and given value as His children, His heirs. Our purpose is to live our lives by His book, His instructions. We are to make choices that align with Him and bring that value to others.