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Reform Voices of Torah
July 16, 2007
Week 192, Day 1
1 Av 5767  

D'varim, Deuteronomy 1:1−3:22
Shabbat Chazon, July 21, 2007 / 6 Av, 5767
The Torah: A Modern Commentary, pp. 1,312−1,333; Revised Edition, pp. 1,161−1,173
Third Haftarah of Affliction, Isaiah 1:1–27
The Torah: A Modern Commentary, pp.1,590–1,594; Revised Edition, pp.1,180–1,183

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D'VAR TORAH |  

Imagining the Scroll of Caleb
Zoë Klein

In our Torah portion, Moses begins his grand oration, recounting the journey of his people as they stand poised to enter the land of promise. Moses recalls God's angry vow: "Not one of the men [counted in the census], this evil generation, shall see the good land that I swore to give to your fathers—none except Caleb, son of Jephunneh; he shall see it, and to him and his descendants will I give the land on which he set foot, because he remained loyal to the Eternal" (Deuteronomy 1:35–36).

We have also read: "For the Eternal had said of them, ‘They shall die in the wilderness.' Not one of them survived, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun" (Numbers 26:65).

We learn much about Joshua, his flawless character and heroic acts, in the book named for him. Moses had passed the leadership onto him. However, we've known little about Caleb.

What if a new scroll were unearthed, for example, in an archaeological dig . . . and it turned out to be the Scroll of Caleb. We can imagine it reading something like this:

I, Caleb son of Jephunneh from the tribe of Judah, am one of only two survivors of the forty-year march across the wilderness. My name simply means "dog," and I am as loyal as one, as I told Joshua, "While my companions who went up with me took the heart out of the people, I was loyal to the Eternal my God." Only I and Joshua were witness to all, the brutality of Egypt, the trials of the desert, the revelation at Mount Sinai, and the crossing of the Jordan into this bountiful land.

Many look at me and ask, "Why him? He is neither more noble than his sojourners nor more clever. He has not the strength of giants, nor the dreams of a prophet." They see the power that Moses, that servant of God, bestowed upon Joshua, how Joshua split the Jordan River, brought down the walls of Jericho, and made the sun stand still so the earth skidded through the sky as if on a slick sapphire pavement.

"But this Caleb," they say, "this old dog, what is unique about him? What magic does he possess?"

I have been a good man, none can contest that fact. I was one of the twelve spies Moses sent to scout the Promised Land. Ten returned to dishearten the people with fright of ferocious natives. Only Joshua and I brought a positive report, and it is written of me, "Caleb hushed the people before Moses and said, ‘Let us by all means go up and we shall gain possession of it.'"

I hushed the people when no one could, and quieted their fears. I told them the truth about that blessed land where every tree tumbled with bright, ripe fruit. I have proved myself to be a brave and strong commander, defeating the Anakim whom all else feared.

"These things he's done," they say, "are admirable things. However, they are not nearly the same as making the sun stand still!"

And so, curious ones, I will answer your inquiry upon this parchment, and seal it here in Hebron, for a future age to discover and wonder about. I will tell you now exactly who I am, and why I merited entrance into the land.

I am you. Yes, I, Caleb son of Jephunneh, am you, you in the business suit, you in the summer dress. I am you when you were in the desert hundreds or thousands of years ago. And I am you now. I am you when you look at yourself and see not the long shadows of the past but the blossoming future. I am you when you look at your neighbor and see no ugliness there, but God's radiant image.

I am you when you feel not like a grasshopper beside the people you admire, but a worthy colleague and equal. I am you when you hush your doubts about yourself, quiet your fears, and rise to your glorious potential. I am you when you pass your hand over the heaps of the world and find there the jeweled spirit just underneath the husks. I am you when you replace "I wish I could" with "Yes, I can." I am you when you walk into a roomful of strangers with your head held high instead of skirting the wall, afraid someone will see. I am you when you are a breath of love in the world. I am you when you stop worrying how people will consider your ideas.

It is true, I am no Joshua. I cannot make the sun stand still. But I did reach the Promised Land as he, because I was true to myself and loyal to my God.

And you, too, will reach your promise, when you are true to your highest self. You are as worthy as I, and you need not be afraid of your potential. You were created for a reason. No creature big or small is superfluous in this abundant garden. Just as I, from Egypt, reached the Promised Land, you, from whatever low place you think you are, can reach your promise, fulfill it, and enter the living dream.

 

Rabbi Zoë Klein is the incoming senior rabbi at Temple Isaiah, Los Angeles, California. A book of her poetry, House Plant Meadow, will be published this year by David R. Godine, and she is the author of a chapter in The Women's Haftarah Commentary (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2004).

Note: This article appeared in part in The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, July 9, 2004.

 

DAVAR ACHER | Davar Acher

Choosing Faith
Adam Stock Spilker

What was it about Caleb, who represents the highest potential of every-person, as Rabbi Klein teaches, that allowed him to see things differently from the other spies?

According to Rava in the Babylonian Talmud [Sotah 34b], while the other spies saw things as they were, Caleb viewed his world as it could be. When scouting the land, Rava teaches, Caleb alone went to Hebron. There he prayed at the graves of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah—drawing strength from his past to help him see beyond the fear of the present.

When the Israelites did not listen to Caleb and Joshua, when they could not see past their fear to embrace faith, God condemned them to wander for forty years. The date, according to our tradition, was the ninth day of the Hebrew month Av, the first Tishah B'Av.

On this Shabbat Chazon (preceding Tishah B'Av, which begins on Monday evening, July 23), we permit ourselves to view the glass as half empty, to despair of humanity and our world before again choosing faith. Our lament is underscored literarily with the Hebrew word eichah, "alas" or "how can it be?" Moses cries out in our parashah: "How [eichah] can I bear unaided the trouble of you . . . !" (Deuteronomy 1:12). In the words of Isaiah in the haftarah: "O how [eichah] the faithful city played the whore!" (Isaiah 1:21). On Tishah B'Av, in the book entitled Eichah (Lamentations) we read, "Alas [eichah]! Lonely sits the city / Once great with people!" (Lamentations 1:1).

Midrash Eichah Rabbah 1:1 connects these verses of collective despair to the very beginning of time. In the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve sinned and then hid, God calls out, "Ayekah/Where are you?" (Genesis 3:9). The Hebrew word ayekah (alef, yod, kaf, hei), without vowels, could be read as eichah (alef, yod, chaf, hei), "alas!" In this moment of human fear and sin, God laments, "Eichah!" God calls out to us to have faith, to see the glass as half full, to partner in tikkun olam, but God's quest in this midrash is tinged with despair. 

There is much in our world today to cause us to cry out eichah. The question is, will we overcome despair and fear and be like Caleb? 

Will we fulfill Isaiah's hopeful words from our haftarah: "‘Learn to do good, seek justice; relieve the oppressed. Uphold the orphan's rights; take up the widow's cause. Come now,' says the Eternal One, ‘let us reason together'" (Isaiah 1:17–18)?

Adam Stock Spilker is a rabbi at Mount Zion Temple in St. Paul, Minnesota.


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