Parashat Shelah: The Unsung Heroes
The Midrash comments, "There is nothing more beloved before the Almighty than Sheluheh Misva, and there were no Sheluheh Misva like those two men sent by Yehoshua Bin Nun."
The Sages here extol the virtues of "Sheluheh Misva" – people who are sent on a mission involving a Misva – and in searching for models of "Sheluheh Misva," they point specifically to the two spies sent by Yehoshua before Beneh Yisrael entered the land, about whom we read in the Haftara for Parashat Shelah. What specific quality of Sheluheh Misva is so admirable and worthy of praise, and why are Yehoshua’s two spies – whom Hazal identify as Kaleb and Pinhas – seen as the quintessential "Sheluheh Misva"?
The Shaareh Ora (by Rav Meir Bergman, contemporary) explains that "Sheluheh Misva" are generally the people who do the hard work without receiving credit or notoriety. For example, when we honor a person who "built" an institution, we generally refer to the primary donor, or the person who spearheaded or raised funds for the project. The laborers on the ground who laid the cement and placed the bricks are not the ones who receive the credit, even though they exerted far greater effort and toil to bring the project to fruition. The ultimate "Sheluheh Misva" are the people who devote themselves arduously to a Misva without seeking recognition or fame, who work purely "Le’Shem Shamayim," sincerely for the sake of God, without anticipating fame or notoriety.
The models of this kind of "Sheluheh Misva" are Kaleb and Pinhas, two accomplished, distinguished men who were sent by Yehoshua, who was considerably younger than them, on a risky, clandestine mission that involved no honor or prestige. In fact, the text in Sefer Yehoshua does not even mention their names; we have to open up the Gemara to find out who they were. Kaleb and Pinhas thus exemplify the "Shaliah Misva," the unsung hero, the one who embarks on a difficult Misva with complete sincerity, without seeking fame and recognition.
Any American who lived during the Persian Gulf War of 1991 and would be asked to name the general who ran the war would, in an instant, mention the name of Norman Schwarzkopf, the U.S. Army commander at the time. However, an article published many years later noted that Schwarzkopf was not the only hero of the Gulf War. Schwarzkopf devised the military strategy of the war, which was certainly no easy feat and is deserving of praise, but this was not the most difficult challenge of the campaign. There was somebody else, whose name is not even known, who worked as the army’s logistician during the war. He was the one who had to figure out how to get the many thousands of troops to where they needed to go, how to make sure they all had proper food and other provisions, and that the day-to-day needs of all personnel were met. This was an enormous undertaking, and one which did not come with any fame or distinction. Schwarzkopf received wide acclaim for his effective work, but the nameless logistician did not – even though his work was certainly no less important or difficult.
There are numerous groups of "unsung heroes" among Am Yisrael, those who toil laboriously and quietly to continue our Torah tradition but without receiving much honor or fame. The most notable of these groups, perhaps, is the women. The role of Orthodox Jewish women, by and large, revolves mainly around the home, as they are the ones who tend to the household and raise the children, imbuing within them a love for Torah and our traditions. Most women do not receive any public accolades for their work, despite the fact that they devote themselves tirelessly to the needs of the home and their job is at least as vital – and likely far more vital – than that of their husbands. The Jewish women are the unsung heroes, the Pinhas and Kaleb of Am Yisrael, the ones who undertake great challenges for the sake of the nation without seeking recognition, working purely "Le’Shem Shamayim," for the sake of God, Torah and the Jewish people.