Parashat Shelah: Yehoshua and Kaleb
Parashat Shelah tells the tragic story of the Meragelim, the scouts sent to Eretz Yisrael who came back with a discouraging report and urged the nation not to proceed into the land. Two the twelve scouts – Yehoshua and Kaleb – dissented and presented a favorable report about the land and the prospects of its conquest. Unfortunately, the majority prevailed, and the people were persuaded not to proceed.
When the Torah lists the names of the twelve scouts, it refers to Yehoshua – who was the closest disciple of Moshe Rabbenu – by the name “Hoshea.” Rashi explains that this was Yehoshua’s original name, but Moshe added the letters “Yod” and “Heh” to form the name “Yehoshua.” These letters, which spell a Name of Hashem (“Y-ah”), were added as a prayer to G-d that “Y-ah Yoshi’acha Me’asat Ha’meragelim” – “G-d shall save you from the plot of the scouts.” Moshe knew through prophetic insight that the scouts would plot to dissuade the people from entering the land, and he thus prayed that his dear student would be protected from their influence and have the fortitude to oppose them.
The second dissenter, Kaleb, also received the strength to oppose the majority through the power of prayer. As Rashi tells later in the Parasha, when Kaleb arrived in Eretz Yisrael he temporarily separated from the other spies and went to Hebron, to the site of Me’arat Ha’machpela, where the patriarchs are buried. He went there in order to pray for assistance in resisting the influence of the scouts.
Yehoshua and Kaleb were outstanding Sadikim, and yet the needed special prayers for protection from the influence of their peers. Moshe was concerned about his closest and most outstanding disciple, and Kaleb did not feel confident in his ability to withstand the pressure without reciting a special prayer at a holy site. The power of peer influence is so strong that even the greatest Sadikim are vulnerable to its force, and can get thrown off course by their surroundings. As great as Yehoshua and Kaleb were, they needed special divine protection to be able to withstand the pressure exerted by the other ten scouts.
This message assumes special importance in contemporary times, when we live in a society that has, unfortunately, plummeted to such depths of immorality. We are bombarded on a daily basis by messages that run in direct contrast to the Torah values which we hold dear. We are far from the level of Yehoshua and Kaleb, and yet we are exposed to unrelenting -sinful influences constantly. If Yehoshua and Kaleb needed special prayers to protect them, then we can only imagine what kind of lengths we must go to in order to protect ourselves and our children from the negative influences exerted upon us. In every generation, but especially in ours, we must work vigorously to shield ourselves from the influences around us, through prayers, Torah learning and education, and by surrounding ourselves with like-minded devoted Jews so we come under their positive Torah influence instead of being exposed to the negative influences of contemporary society.