In this week’s Torah portion we read of the tragic events that unfolded in the desert when the spies returned to the Jewish camp after reconnoitering the land. Their chilling report stripped the nation of its morale and instilled fear and despondency within them. Fearful of the Canaanites vaunted might and the land’s powerful fortifications, the Jewish people disdained the promised land and gave vent to bitter complaining.
As a consequence of their lack of faith in Hashem, the entire generation was condemned to pass on in the wilderness. A new generation, nurtured and imbued with absolute faith, would be better armed to engage the challenges that would confront the nation after crossing the Jordan River into Eretz Yisroel.
Only two men, Yehoshua and Calev, contradicted the spies’ evil report by declaring that the land was exceptionally good. Both were rewarded with future leadership and longevity, yet Calev rather than Yehoshua was singled out by Hashem for an additional reward-a special portion in the Land of Israel. “Eikev hoisa ruach acheres bo,” the Torah explains: “Calev harbored within himself a counter spirit!”
What is meant by this ‘counter spirit’ for which Calev merited such a special reward? And what is the meaning of the preceding word “eikev (since)”, which literally means “heel” and is often used to indicate the furthest extremity?
The commentaries explain that although both Yehousha and Calev acted meritoriously, Calev was accorded special distinction inasmuch as Yehoushua was naturally humble and more easily prone to surrendering his instincts to the Divine will. Calev however, had negative impulses and stirrings similar to those that drove the other spies. He, too, was possessed with a desire to submit a negative report about the land that might lead the nation to remain within the Divinely protected environment of the wilderness.
Calev therefore had to marshal all of his inner strengths to counter the overwhelming pull to join his comrades in defaming Eretz Yisroel. He had to wage an internal battle to sublimate these “outlaw” instincts to Hashem’s will. Perhaps the potency of this challenge is alluded to in the word “eikev”-signifying that although this renegade ruach seeped down to his eikev, to the colloquial ‘bottom of his boots,’ Calev nevertheless prevailed over it by harnessing a counter force of devotion to the truth that sprang from his innermost self.
Eikev, the heel, is often used as a reference not only to the lowest extremity of the body, the heel, which is the furthest from the head, but also to the generation of Ikvisa D’Mishica, the last generations before Moshiach which are the furthest from the Divine revelation at Sinai. It is this time frame that is described by the commentaries as a generation that will be swept up with the “ruach hazman” -the degenerate spirit and lifestyle of the times.
Just as the urge to fall in step with the destructive choices of the spies posed a powerful challenge to Calev, the ruach hazman of our own times targets all of us with difficult choices: Will we maintain pure faith and a pure mind in our service of the Divine? Or will we G-d forbid fall prey to influences from a society that embraces deviant, immoral practices that only a decade or two earlier were shunned?
We too are easily swayed, but when we activate our spiritual defenses to counter these repellant influences and to keep ourselves from straying from our Divine mission, we are guaranteed Divine help in crossing the wilderness and realizing our delightful portion in the Promised Land.
Wishing you a delightful Shabbos.
Rabbi Naftali Reich Text Copyright © 2014 by Rabbi Naftali Reich and Torah.org.
Rabbi Reich is on the faculty of the Ohr Somayach Tanenbaum Education Center.