Weekly Torah Commentary – Schlach June 12, 2015

Numbers/Bamidbar 13-15

As this week’s reading opens, God instructs Moses to send 12 spies into the Land which He has promised the children of Israel. They are to ‘spy’ it out; in other words, see who is living there, what the Land is like, how large is the population, are there walled cities, etc. We are given the list of those chosen to go – one leader from each of the twelve tribes. On their return, ten of them deliver a discouraging report, intimidated by what they observed, reluctant to have to fight for what they have been promised. Only two have a different attitude. Note this verse: Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, ‘Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it.’ Num. 13:30

The people are frightened and begin to weep. Some suggest returning to Egypt. Moses turns to God while Joshua and Caleb contradicted the negative report of the other ten and declared: The land we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us… Only do not rebel against the Lord, nor fear the people of the Land for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them and the Lord is with us. Do not fear them. 14:7-9

Their words fell on deaf ears and God tells Moses that none of them who rebelled against Him would enter the Land. Everyone of that generation would die in the wilderness and their children would enter the Land. Then God added: But My servant, Caleb, because he has a different spirit in him and has followed Me fully, I will bring into the Land where he went, and his descendants shall inherit it. Num. 14:24

If there was ever a character that displayed a right attitude or “different spirit” toward God and His Word, it would have to be Caleb. The key to his character is in the phrase “a different spirit”. What does that really mean?

Names in the Bible have very specific meanings. The Hebrew name ‘Caleb’ is an interesting one.

First, this name, Caleb, appears 35 times in the Scripture. The number “35” in biblical numerology is related to ‘repentance’. Therefore, there is a hint that Caleb, just as human as you and I, knew well the meaning of repentance and practiced it faithfully. This brings to mind David, King of Israel, who repented immediately when confronted by the prophet and God calls David “a man after my own heart.” We deduce from the character associated with his name that Caleb is a type of those who are quick to repent, who do not try to rationalize or excuse their failings but turn quickly back to God when they fail.

Secondly, in Hebrew, his name is pronounced “Colev” as the ‘b’ and the ‘v’ are written exactly the same but sounds are interchangeable depending on the position of the letter in the word. Colev means literally ‘all heart’. Col = all and lev = heart. Therefore, Caleb (or Col-Lev as pronounced in Hebrew) actually means “with all the heart” or “whole-hearted.”

Another word derived in Hebrew from the very same root is calev which means ‘dog’. If we look at the definitions for the words ‘dogged’ and ‘doggedness,’ they mean “stubbornly unyielding” and “persistent determination.” This ‘doggedness’ perfectly describes one who is ‘whole-hearted,’ and fits the description of the faith and determination exhibited by Caleb or ‘Colev’!

Caleb is called “the son of Jephunneh.” This name ‘Jephunneh’ is a Hebrew word, whose root means “turn around, look, and prepare.” Taken together, the phrase “Caleb the son of Jephunneh” reveals to us one of the most basic characteristics of a godly man or woman: a person who is whole-hearted in following God and when he or she fails or transgresses, they quickly repent and turn back to Him in ‘whole-hearted’ repentance.

Why should these character traits have earned Caleb the honor of being designated by God, Himself, as a man with a “different spirit”?

Because the raw fact is that humankind, even those of us who profess to be following God, are more often inclined to excuse and rationalize our failures than to humble ourselves – quickly – and repent wholeheartedly of even the ‘slightest’ infraction of God’s Word and His ways. Modern society has become de-sensitised to sin. Things that would have caused our parents and our grandparents to shutter are commonplace around the world today and few even raise an eyebrow anymore.

Make no mistake about it, my friends. The eternal Word of God has not changed and never will. God does not accommodate His ways to society’s whims. It is we who are to conform to His Word.

In Tune with Torah this week: It strikes me that our present world condition puts us in a position similar to that which Joshua and Caleb faced. The voices advocating ‘going back to Egypt’ are loud and aggressive. The prophets of compromise and comfort own too many microphones. Morality and biblical values have been turned upside down. God is looking for Joshuas and Calebs to stand wholeheartedly for Him, His Word and His ways in the midst of this present generation. Will you be one of them?

Shabbat Shalom

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