“The Hebron Giants” Parashat Shelach 5777

Moshe sends twelve spies to Israel on a “Pilot Trip” to assess the suitability of the land in preparation for absorbing three million new inhabitants and to determine the best way in which to capture it[1]. When the spies return to base camp, things go south and Am Yisrael are sentenced to forty years wandering in the desert. Here is what the spies tell Am Yisrael [Bemidbar 13:28]: “The people who inhabit the land are mighty, the cities are huge and heavily fortified and there we saw the offspring of the giants!” To make sure that everybody understands that there are GIANTS in Israel, the spies repeat themselves [Bemidbar 13:33]: “There we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, descended from the giants. In [their] eyes we seemed like grasshoppers”. When Moshe recaps the story of the spies in the Book of Devarim, he quotes his kinsmen as saying [Devarim 1:28] “Our brothers have discouraged us, saying, ‘A nation greater and taller than we; cities great and fortified up to the heavens, and we have even seen the sons of giants there.’” The point is clear: the people were rattled by the giants more than by anything else.

The only problem is that the spies never actually saw any giants. The Torah tells us precisely where the giants were located [Bemidbar 13:22]: “They went up through the south and [he] came to Hebron, and there were Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the descendants of the giant.” As the reader may have noticed, this verse contains a singular-plural mismatch: “They (plural) went up (va’ya’a’lu)” and “he (singular) came (va’ya’vo)”. Rashi notes this and suggests that only one of the spies, Caleb the son of Yefuneh from the Tribe of Yehuda, actually went to Hebron. Rashi’s explanation, while seemingly Midrashic, is actually very straightforward. Years later, Caleb asks Joshua to give him Hebron as his inheritance [Joshua 14:12]: “Give me this mountain of which Hashem spoke on that day, for you heard on that day how the giants were there, and that the cities were big and fortified. May I merit that Hashem will be with me and I shall drive them out, as Hashem spoke”. Joshua is impressed with Caleb’s request, and he grants it [Joshua 14:13]: “Joshua blessed him and gave Hebron to Caleb the son of Yefuneh for an inheritance”. So if Caleb was the only one of the spies to actually step foot in Hebron, it sure does seem like the rest of the spies were lying through their teeth when they told everyone that say saw “the Hebron Giants”.

This poses yet another question: Where were the rest of the spies when Caleb went into Hebron? Did they go to a more interesting place like, say, Mini Israel, or perhaps they went to Masada, which also happens to have a very nice gift shop? And who gave them permission to skip Hebron? When Moshe gives the spies their orders, he specifically tells them [Bemidbar 13:17] “Go up this way through the Negev and climb up the mountain”. Moshe tells them to climb the[2] mountain, meaning a very specific mountain. As anyone with the slightest knowledge of Israeli geography knows, when Israel is entered from the south via the Negev Desert the first mountain range encountered is Har Hevron – the Hebron Judean mountains. Moshe specifically wanted the spies to go to Hebron. He wanted them to see the Giants. And yet the spies flagrantly disregarded his instructions. We can gain some traction from the explanation of the Netziv of Volozhn, who asserts that while all of the spies went to Hebron, only Caleb had the guts to go inside the city. Rav Yaakov Meidan suggests that Caleb was less frightened than his compatriots because he had a military background. But for whatever the reason, eleven spies remained a safe distance away from Hebron, waiting to hear Caleb’s report.

What did Caleb tell the other spies upon his return from Hebron? The second time I briefed Iron Dome on Capitol Hill, and every time I have briefed Iron Dome since, I concluded my briefing with a picture of a bride and a groom against the night-time Tel Aviv skyline. The groom is my nephew. The wedding was held in August 2014 in Tel Aviv. After the wedding, long past midnight, they went to Jaffa along with their entourage to take pictures against the stunning skyline. This was in the middle of Operation Protective Edge and rocket fire on Tel Aviv was a regular occurrence. As luck would have it, an alarm went off during the photo shoot, but being the battle-hardened Israelis that they were, they completely disregarded the alarm. How lucky they were. In the top left corner of the picture can be seen a streak of light, an Iron Dome interceptor streaking towards its target, a Fajr-5 rocket carrying a 400-pound warhead.

After showing this slide, I turned to the Congressmen and offered them my deepest thanks for helping Israel to live in security by supporting Iron Dome. One of the Congressmen, I want to say Trent Franks, looked at me incredulously and asked me how I could feel this way, living in a country surrounded by people who want to murder a bride and a groom on their wedding night. I answered that if he can’t understand how we can feel secure with the sword of Damocles held by a thread over our necks, then he should thank his lucky stars that he lives in a country where this lifestyle is considered insanity. Had Iron Dome not been around in 2014, my nephew’s wedding would not have happened. In 2006, during the Second Lebanon War, weddings in the north[3] of the country were either moved to the south or cancelled altogether. Iron Dome gives Israelis a modicum of security, enough so that we can get married, send our kids to school, go shopping at the mall and launch start-up companies. It allows us to pretend that we live like normal people.

What did Caleb tell the other spies upon his return from Hebron? I suggest that Caleb told the other eleven spies about Iron Dome. He described the giants in intricate detail and then he told them that they should not be worried because we have a secret weapon: Hashem.  This suggestion is not mere conjecture. When the spies return and give their report to Moshe, Caleb sees the situation spinning out of control and he silences the murmuring, saying [Bemidbar 13:30] “We can surely go up and take possession of it, for we can indeed overcome it”. Rashi, quoting from the Talmud in Tractate Sotah [35a] explains that Caleb meant that “We can surely go up: even to heaven; if [Hashem] tells us, ‘Make ladders and go up there,’ we will succeed in whatever He says”. Caleb told them that even though the Hezbollah have 150,000 rockets aimed at Israel, we have a system that picks out the ones that will do damage, it fires an interceptor at them, the interceptor flies past the rocket at a relative velocity of about a mile a second, and at just the right instant the interceptor detonates its warhead causing the rocket warhead to detonate. Caleb told them that the system will operate at full capacity even if the Hezbollah fire a salvo of rockets at us and that we can expect interceptions to occur at a success rate of greater than 90%.

Not only is it clear what Caleb told the other spies, their response is equally clear. Their response is no different than the response of Am Yisrael after Caleb tells them “We shall overcome”: They completely disregard Caleb and they can only mumble “But there are Giants in Hebron…” Moshe, understanding that it was a terrible mistake to send the spies to Hebron, falls to his knees and says nothing.

Living in the State of Israel is not for the faint-hearted. Not everybody wants to live in a place where their survival is dependent on factors that they do not and cannot control. David Ben Gurion once said that in order to be a realist in Israel you must believe in miracles. We need miracles, we expect miracles, and more often than not, we are blessed with miracles. We’re not going to let any giants get in our way.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5777

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Yechiel ben Shprintza and HaRav Chaim Nosson Eliyahu ben Lana.

[1] Rav Yaakov Meidan wrote an amazing paper published in Megadim #10 (5750), blaming the horrific results of the journey of the spies on the lack of clarity regarding its purpose: Were these men supposed to look for a good place to build a house or were they meant to plan an optimum attack route?

[2] “The mountain” – “ha’har” – uses the “heh ha’yedia” – “the known [letter] heh” convention.

[3] During the Second Lebanon War, rockets fell no further south than Hadera. We in the north had our own private war.

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over twenty-five years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science", and his speaking events are regularly sold-out. Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA and Canada. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2001 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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