The story of this week’s Torah reading: Parshat Shelach is of course well known. Moshe sends 12 “spies” to scout out the Land of Israel. They travel the Land, see its wonders and beauties but they also see that the land is occupied by strong and mighty people. On returning to Moshe, they report what they saw, adding that: “However, the people who inhabit the land are mighty, and the cities are extremely huge and fortified, and there we saw even the offspring of the giant. “. In short: “no dice”.
At this stage, the drama begins to quicken. “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 majority reply: “We are unable to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we.”. Not satisfied with this, they falsify their report, exaggerating the size and strength of the inhabitants, adding a slander of the Land they had just traversed .”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.”
Clearly, the focus of the story at this point is Caleb, and it is curious to note that his name, which in English would be “dog”, is far from complimentary. In fact, dogs have a bit of a bad reputation in the Bible and in Jewish tradition (disclaimer: I am a dog owner) which makes Caleb a very unusual hero. Take example the section of the Gemara from Sotah(49b):
ELIEZER THE GREAT SAYS: FROM THE DAY THE TEMPLE WAS DESTROYED, THE SAGES BEGAN TO BE LIKE SCHOOL-TEACHERS,49 SCHOOL-TEACHERS LIKE SYNAGOGUE-ATTENDANTS, SYNAGOGUE-ATTENDANTS LIKE COMMON PEOPLE, AND THE COMMON PEOPLE BECAME MORE AND MORE DEBASED; AND THERE WAS NONE TO ASK, NONE TO INQUIRE. UPON WHOM IS IT FOR US TO RELY? UPON OUR FATHER WHO IS IN HEAVEN. IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE MESSIAH1 INSOLENCE WILL INCREASE AND HONOUR DWINDLE;2 THE VINE WILL YIELD ITS FRUIT [ABUNDANTLY] BUT WINE WILL BE DEAR;3 THE GOVERNMENT WILL TURN TO HERESY4 AND THERE WILL BE NONE [TO OFFER THEM] REPROOF; THE MEETING-PLACE [OF SCHOLARS] WILL BE USED FOR IMMORALITY; GALILEE WILL BE DESTROYED, GABLAN5 DESOLATED, AND THE DWELLERS ON THE FRONTIER WILL GO ABOUT [BEGGING] FROM PLACE TO PLACE WITHOUT ANYONE TO TAKE PITY ON THEM; THE WISDOM OF THE LEARNED6 WILL DEGENERATE, FEARERS OF SIN WILL BE DESPISED, AND THE TRUTH WILL BE LACKING; YOUTHS WILL PUT OLD MEN TO SHAME, THE OLD WILL STAND UP IN THE PRESENCE OF THE YOUNG, A SON WILL REVILE HIS FATHER, A DAUGHTER WILL RISE AGAINST HER MOTHER, A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW, AND A MAN’S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD;7 THE FACE OF THE GENERATION WILL BE LIKE THE FACE OF A DOG,8 A SON WILL NOT FEEL ASHAMED BEFORE HIS FATHER. SO UPON WHOM IS IT FOR US TO RELY? UPON OUR FATHER WHO IS IN HEAVEN.
Dogs are a symbol of insolence, chutzpa, lacking honor, with their “eyes to the ground” and always chasing after their base desires. So what is it with Caleb?
Dog owners will exclaim that there are no bad dogs; only bad dog owners. And there is the rub. Caleb is indeed a bit insolent and disrespectful of the majority of the spies. He is also loyal to his “owner”, G-d, and a firm believer in the Divine Promise bequeathing the Land to Israel. Caleb is willing to go out on a limb for what he believes even if he remains a near lone voice.
The story of Caleb is near canon with the “settlers”. Forget that Caleb did not succeed in persuading the majority. Caleb is a symbol of the love of the Land and the firm belief of our ability and right to inherit it.
So where is our Caleb today?
The press is full of discussions concerning steps that the government should or should not take in “annexing” parts or all of Area C in Judea and Samaria. USA President Donald Trump’s plan, Peace to Prosperity, opens up the possibility for the present government in Israel to change the status of Israeli populated areas in Judea and Samaria in exchange in recognizing the other parts as part of the prospective Palestinian State that would rise besides Israel. Surprisingly, the Council for Communities in Judea and Samaria (Yesha Council) is a bit divided on the subject with a majority actually against any plan that would recognize a Palestinian State and, in their words, endanger the live and security of Israeli residents in Judea and Samaria and even Israel itself.
So where is Caleb and what would he say?
I personally am unsure.
Israeli sovereignty is long overdue in those areas where Israeli citizens have been living for over four decades. Maale Adumim, Efrat, Beitar Illit, and Modiin Illit (among other areas) are both adjacent to the “Green Line” that separates Israel pre-1967 from the “West Bank” (a fictional term for Judea and Samaria), and with their large populations, there is little chance that Israel would abandon them to any Arab state. It is both logical and inevitable that certain areas will become completely Israeli as far as the application of Israeli law and sovereignty.
On the other hand, Trump’s plan leaves large swaths of land that are now populated and farmed by Israelis beyond the borders defined for Jewish development. West Tapuach or the hills around Yishar or Itamar are slated to be part of the Palestinian State. Roads that serve as lifelines to Jewish communities also are not included leaving many of the smaller Jewish communities as isolated enclaves. This naturally has some of the Settler leaders up in arms and opposed to any partial annexation that leaves Jewish communities isolated and vulnerable.
However, without a doubt, Caleb would scorn those warning against any step that would upset the ICC, the UN, or the EU. “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.” claim those detractors and Caleb would dismiss them as the true grasshopper they are. Israel in the year 2020 is far from vulnerable and can and should do what is in her best interests. What those best interests might be is not totally clear, but it is an internal Israeli matter that can not be predicated on what some in the EU think or what Hussein, King of Jordan believes.
And as the latest High Court ruling striking down the Regulation Law (for communities in Judea and Samaria) shows, there may not be any other way to apply Israeli law equally in Ofra as in Bir Hadaj without annexation. Implementing the recommendations of the Edmund Levy Report could go a long way to making annexation redundant (or as critics would suggest, being a de facto annexation in itself), but since neither the Attorney General not the legal establishment is willing to consider how to solve land disputes in Judea and Samaria without annexation then there may be no other alternative.
In November there will be Presidential elections in the USA and there is a chance or a danger (depending on one’s outlook) that the Trump administration will end sooner than later. Proponents of annexation claim that it is essential to “create facts” and to utilize the “window of opportunity” to block any return to the inimical to Israel policies of the Obama administration. Yet if in those eight years Israel was able to resist Obama’s bidding, there is perhaps a better chance to resist those of Biden, should he be elected. Nor it is certain that any new administration would feel bound by any unilateral Israeli action.
Still, the Yesha Council should also remember that, by tradition, the spies made their report on the eve of what was Tisha B’av. “The entire community raised their voices and shouted, and the people wept on that night.”. For the sin of needlessly crying and the lack of faith, the Israelites were condemned to wander the desert for forty years and the 9th of Av was declared in heaven as a day of eternal mourning. Perhaps they should reconsider their opposition to Trump’s plan?
The Talmud in tractate Taanit (29a) explains that the spies who delivered a negative report about the land of Israel in parshat Shelach (Bamidbar chapter 13) returned on 9 Av, a date easily calculated from known dates. Discouraged by the spies’ false report, the people cried all night. God said that since they cried for nothing, He would give them legitimate reasons to cry on that date.
Opportunities come and go, but sometimes there is a need for an audacious decision, like that of Caleb’s that cuts to the root of the matter. The Land is our Land and our faith in G-d allows us to put our fears aside and move forward. Trump’s plan, as imperfect (and perhaps I will reiterate it’s weaknesses in a different post) as it is, is still the best way to ensure Israel’s security and her standing in Judea and Samaria. It is time to hear Caleb’s voice once again: “We can surely go up and take possession of the Land, for we can indeed overcome the obstacles.“