This week’s Torah portion, Parshat Shelach, is set only a few days before the Jewish people were supposed to enter the Land of Israel. Apprehensive about their upcoming battles against the nations of Canaan, they request of Moshe to send 12 spies to check out the land. Moshe confers with the Almighty, who allows the spies to go, although the Torah alludes to the fact that this was less than preferable.
The spies see a land that they feel is unconquerable and bring back a report that breaks the hearts and spirits of the Jewish people. As panic begins to break out and the nation is ready to attack Moshe and Aharon, Yehoshua (Joshua) and Kalev (Caleb) step in to defend the Land of Israel.
Is we take a look at these two heroes, we see a significant difference between them. Yehoshua was Moshe’s prime student. He has already been introduced to us many times in the Torah as one who stands by his teacher, never leaving his side, thirstily drinking from every word he says. In this week’s Torah portion itself, the Torah alludes to Moshe giving Yehoshua strength to overcome this challenge in the form of adding a letter to his name.
But Kalev is a personality that we have don’t know too much about. What strikes us first about him is his unusual name. The name Kalev has the same letters as the word Kelev, which is Hebrew for dog. Where is the glory in that name?
Perhaps, if we properly understand the challenge that the spies presented and the character trait that Kalev displayed, we can understand how theKelev teaches us an important lesson about how to navigate through life’s challenges.
The spies were not evil people. They were selected because of their righteousness. They believed in God and saw all of the miracles that He had done to get the Jewish nation to this point. But they also realized that at some point the miraculous lifestyle that the Jewish people were experiencing was going to stop. At some point, God was going to say, “I did my part to get you here, now you need to learn how to stand up on your own to your enemies, while I take a backseat.” The spies felt that they were just not yet ready for that challenge of living life when the Divine Providence is concealed.
But Kalev understood, that even when Hashem is concealed, if the Jewish people go forth with full strength and confidence, Hashem will be right there behind them, even if is He is “unseen”.
So what does this have to do with dogs? Well, simply take note of the difference between an owner walking his dog compared to any other animal. While other animals need to be pulled by their owner and directed where to go, the dog proudly walks in front of its master with full confidence that even though he isn’t visible, he is right there, leading him from behind.
In fact the root of the word Kelev is Lev which means heart. Because the dog runs ahead excited by the possibilities of where the journey might go, knowing that with his master behind him, he cannot fail.
Kalev was different than Yehoshua. He did not have that same close connection with Moshe, who would be able to guide him how to act in every situation. Kalev was a self-made leader. Kalev lived by his heart. He understood that in the desert, Hashem leads us by walking “in front” of us, but in Israel Hashem would lead us from “behind”. He wasn’t removing His Providence from us, just waiting for us to take the first steps with our hearts, and he would be right there behind us, guiding us from that perspective.
We learn an important lesson from Kalev. At times we feel we have clarity in life, that Hashem is leading us from “in front” and we can simply follow along. But sometimes Hashem conceals himself, and we are left with no choice but to move ahead following only what we believe deeply in our hearts is real and true. But if we stay true to our hearts than, like a Kelev and like Kalev, we can be confident that our master, the Master of the Worlds, is right behind us, watching us, and making sure that we reach our destination safely.