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Posted on June 3, 2021 (5781) By Rabbi Yissocher Frand | Series: | Level:

These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly portion: #1165 Tallis Falling off During Davening / Cleaning Glasses With Your Tallis? Good Shabbos!

The Lesson of Kalev’s Side Trip to Chevron

Parshas Shelach contains the infamous story of the Meraglim. The pasuk says that “They went up through the south (Va’ya’lu ba’negev) and he came to Chevron (va’yavo ad Chevron)…” [Bamidbar 13:22]. The grammatical inconsistency in this pasuk jumps out at us immediately. The pasuk begins in the plural – they went up – but concludes in the singular – he came to Chevron.

Rashi alludes to the Gemara [Sotah 34b] which raises this question. Rava states: This teaches that Kalev separated himself from the scheme of the Spies and went to (the Machpela Cave to) pray for Divine assistance by the gravesite of the Avos. The answer to the question is that not all the Spies went to Chevron. “And he came to Chevron” refers specifically to Kalev ben Yefuneh. The rest of the Spies went their way, and Kalev took a detour to the burial site of Avrohom, Yitzchok, and Yaakov, invoking their help to seek Divine Mercy that he should be spared from falling into the plan of the other Spies. (The Talmud explains that Yehoshua already received a special Bracha from Moshe Rabbeinu that he should not be ensnared by the Spies’ plans, and therefore he did not need to travel to the Mea’ras haMachpela.)

Rav Shlomo Wolbe, zt”l, asks a question: Normally, when a person does not know what to do—should I or should I not?—He wants Heavenly assistance to help resolve his dilemma. In such a situation, it is understandable why someone would go to Kever Avos to ask for Siyata D’Shmaya in helping resolve the matter: “Please, Grant me the good sense to make the right decision!”

But here, Kalev already knows what the right decision is. He already knows that he is facing trouble. He must have already sensed that the others were planning to give a negative report about Eretz Yisrael. He knows that he does not want to join in with them. He knows what to do—there is no dilemma!

When does someone go to a Rebbe, a wise person, a great man and ask for advice? That is when he does not know what to do. Here, Kalev knew full well what course of action he should take. What, then, was the purpose of this side trip to Chevron to pray at the Cave of Machpela?

Rav Wolbe concludes: We see from this story a life’s lesson, a lesson that we must always bear in mind: A person should try to avoid situations that involve big decisions. When there is a need to choose and a person must leave it up to his own free-will and good senses, he may not make the right decision. Therefore, it is always safer to put ourselves in situations where we do not need to make such decisions. It is better to remain in territory where the “tough decision” is already made for us as a forgone conclusion.

We can go into “decision making mode” with the best intentions and tell ourselves “I am going to make the proper choice and I am strong,” but when it comes to crunch time, so many times in life we do not have the will power or the guts to follow through on what we know to be the correct path to follow, and we wind up making the wrong decision.

I will give a very mundane example. You are on a diet and you are going to a wedding. You know that there will be these tables laden with all the delicacies in the world. Someone might say “I am going to go there and I do not need to worry. I will make the right decision and keep to my diet!” And where does he find himself? Right in front of the ‘franks in blankets’. He had the best of intentions, but…

So, what should someone do? Avoid the smorgasbord! Go ahead and eat a ton of vegetables before you go to the Chasunah. Fill yourself up with stuff that you are allowed to eat. Do not put yourself in a place of temptation, because as strong as you may feel before the smorgasbord, when you get there, it is not the same.

This is what Kalev said. I know what the right thing is, and I know I need to make a decision. Ribono shel Olam, I am asking for Your Mercy—do not put me in a situation where I need to rely on my own free will.

This is a principle of many of the Ba’alei Mussar. Specifically, it is a very famous rule of thumb from Rabbi Yisrael Salanter: It is always best to minimize the nisayon (temptation). Minimize the scope of any choice you need to make to the point where there is virtually no choice to be made!

One of the places he says this is all the way back in Sefer Bereshis. Hashem tells Yaakov “Return to the land of your fathers and to your birthplace and I will be with you.” [Bereshis 31:3] Yaakov had lived by Lavan for twenty-plus years. The Ribono shel Olam came to him one night and told him to go back home. Okay, so Yaakov needs to tell his wife and family that they are going back home. The next morning, we would expect him to tell his wives, “G-d appeared to me and told me we have to go back home. Pack up your bags and let’s go!”

What does Yaakov Avinu do? “Yaakov sent and summoned Rochel and Leah to the field, to his flock, and said to them, ‘I have noticed that your father’s position is not toward me as in earlier days; but the G-d of my father was with me. Now you have known that with all my might I worked for your father, yet your father mocked me and changed my wage ten times; but G-d did not permit him to harm me….” He gives them a whole speech, pasuk after pasuk, explaining what a crook their father was, and how terribly their father treated him, explaining to them why it is not in their best interest to remain there. [Bereshis 31:5-12] He finally says, almost as an afterthought after this lengthy persuasive argument, that he was given a Divine command to return to the land of his birthplace. [Bereshis 31:13]

What was the response of Rochel and Leah to their husbands’ message? “Have we still a share and an inheritance in our father’s house? Are we not considered by him as strangers, for he has sold us? And he has even totally consumed our money! Rather, all the wealth that G-d has taken away from our father belongs to us and to our children.” [Bereshis 31:14-16] After this whole bitter speech analyzing all the financial and social justifications for leaving their father’s home, they throw in “so now, whatever G-d has said to you, do.” It is like they add this justification as an afterthought “By the way, G-d said to do this, so okay—let’s do it!”

For twelve pasukim, Yaakov and his wives weigh the pros and cons of staying or leaving. This should not take twelve pasukim. This should take two pasukim. “Yaakov said to his wives ‘G-d said to go.'” Next pasuk: “Fine. Let’s go!” End of discussion! Why did Yaakov need to give that whole schmooze, and why did his wives need to give their whole schmooze?

The answer is, says Rav Yisrael Salanter, that they were psyching themselves up. This is not a tough decision. This is a no-brainer slam-dunk! But they need to make the decision in that fashion. They do not want to be put in a situation of “Should we or should we not follow the command of G-d? Is it the right thing or is it not the right thing to heed the Word of the Almighty? By first logically concluding – even aside from what G-d commanded – this is definitely the way to go, the decision to follow the Word of G-d has already been made for them!

This, Rav Wolbe says, is how we need to go through life. We cannot necessarily rely on our own strong free will, because when someone puts himself in that situation, there can be all sorts of rationalizations. All kinds of “thought processes” can come into play that will affect our choices. This touches every aspect of our life—where we live, where we work, who our co-workers are, who our neighbors are, and what effect they will have on us. It is not wise for people to say, “I will not be affected / I do not need to worry / I will make the right decision”. Kalev ben Yefuneh is telling us “Do not do that!” Don’t rely on your “freedom of choice” because too many times in life we, in fact, do not make the right decision.

Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]

Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]

This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Sh’lach is provided below:

  • 016 Mixed Seating at Weddings
  • 061 – The Minyan: Who Counts?
  • 105 – Tallis: Does it Cover Only Married Men?
  • 150 – Tzitzis: Must They Be Worn?
  • 197 – Carrying Medicine on Shabbos
  • 243 – The Concept of Prison in Jewish Law
  • 287 – Women and Tzitzis
  • 333 – Techeiles Today
  • 377 – Tzitzis: Must They Be Seen?
  • 421 – The Issur of Histaklus
  • 465 – Donning a Tallis for The Amud
  • 509 – Ain Ma’averin Al Hamitzvos
  • 553 – Women and Tzitzis Revisited
  • 597 – Davening at the Graves of Tzadikim
  • 641 – K’rias Shema and K’eil Melech Ne’eman
  • 685 – Art Museums
  • 729 – Making Tzitzis
  • 773 – Kavanah When Wearing Tzitzis
  • 817 – Davening for a Rasha to Change – Does It Work?
  • 861 – Do We Knead Challah in America?
  • 905 – The Tallis Over Your Head
  • 949 – The Shul’s Tallis−Bracha or No Bracha?
  • 992 – Your Talis Katan: Is it Big Enough?
  • 1036 – Our Tallis – Should It Be Beautiful? Is It Really Chayav in Tzitzis?
  • 1080 – Doing An Aveira for the Best Reasons?
  • 1123 – Taking Off Your Tallis – Must You Make A New Bracha?
  • 1165 – Tallis Falling off During Davening / Cleaning Glasses With Your Tallis?
  • 1208 – Going to Daven at a Cemetery – Not As Simple As You Think.
  • 1253 – Carrying Nitroglycerin on Shabbos for Heart Patient / Candy for Diabetic? Mutar or Asur
  • 1297 – Oh Oh Some-one Took My Tallis by Accident and Left His; Can I Use His Tallis
  • 1341 – A Beautiful Talis: Is That Called Hidur Mitzvah and Other Talis Issues
  • 1385 – Techeiles Today-Why Not?
  • 1429 – Must You Wear Tzitzis When Exercising or Playing Sports?

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