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(Torah Portion Shlach) Choices and Options!

The Torah in this week’s portion relates that Moshe sent twelve spies to scout out the Land of Israel.

Even though G-d wasn’t thrilled with the mission because He had promised that the nation would have His total backing in conquering the land, and their spying was totally unnecessary, when Jewish leaders asked Moshe permission to spy on the land, G-d responded, “I give them the choice to go.”

They returned after forty days and ten spies gave a disparaging report and ultimately convinced the Jewish people that it wasn’t a good idea to go there.

This episode demonstrates the concept of free will. G-d grants us free will to process information and make right or wrong decisions. G-d then judges and evaluates our decisions and choices.

Although G-d deemed the mission unnecessary He still set things up for them to succeed in their mission. For example, wherever they traveled people were involved with funerals of their loved ones. G-d did this so that the people would be occupied with grief and mourning and not take notice of the spies. Yet, the evil spies turned around this apparent favor of G-d, and reported that the land is diseased in some mysterious way, because all we saw was funerals!

Their ability to make the right decisions and see things clearly became compromised and skewed since it was not the course that G-d wanted and they were therefore left vulnerable to make mistakes.

Two of the spies, Joshua and Calev remained righteous. It is interesting that during the mission, the ten evil spies were certain that Joshua did not go along with their plan to report negatively, however, they were unsure where Calev stood. He did not express himself one way or the other.

Why did Calev keep them guessing? When Calev overheard the spies’ plan to report negatively he realized that there was little chance that he and Joshua would be believed against the ten spies’ bad report. He therefore kept them guessing where he stood.

Only after the spies actually reported back negatively and the people accepted what they said, Calev cleverly expressed his true feelings; that the land is good and conquerable.

The Torah tells us that the people got nervous from the bad report, and then Calev was able to quiet them down. He accomplished this by getting up and capturing their attention by saying, “Is this all that the son of Amram (Moshe) did to us?”

Calev, by calling Moshe, the son of Amram, was employing a clever tactic, says Rabbi Yaacov Melisa. Generally speaking, when someone is not fond of another, he has difficulty referring to him by name; he usually will give him a nickname. (How true this is.)

When Calev got up and referred to the leader Moshe – as “the son of Amram” – the other spies and people thought he was referring to Moshe disparagingly and Calev was also disenchanted with Moshe and his plan to proceed to the land, and was going to side with the negative report of the spies.

However, once Calev got their attention, he proceeded to extol all of Moshe’s great virtues and leadership abilities. He then reported that the land was exceedingly good and conquerable.

Calev through his tactic was able to recapture the people’s trust – for at least a few moments. But when the evil spies saw where he stood and that he was able to counter their negativity, they rebounded with a fierce barrage of frightening and daunting details about the land and were able to succeed in convincing the people not to want to travel to the land.


Calev was rewarded for his great courage of speaking up and not falling prey to the pressure and the influence of the bad spies. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein o.b.m. points out that Calev’s words only captivated the people’s attention and caused them to pause their wrongful intentions for only a few moments, yet G-d rewarded Calev for it! This is because conveying and affording people even a few moments of clarity is an awesome accomplishment and ample reason for great reward!

Wishing you a most enjoyable and uplifting Shabbat!
Rabbi Dovid Saks