Parashat Shelach

Don't Let Titles Mislead You

We all know, more or less, the story of the spies. Twelve men were sent to spy out the land of Canaan at their request, and angered G-d by presenting a negative report upon their return.

The Shelach Lecha portion, which we read this week, starts by listing the names of the twelve spies, but today we really know only two of these well: Caleb, the son of Jephunneh and Joshua, the son of Nun.

All of them were famous "princes", but only Caleb and Joshua left their mark on the history of the people of Israel, while the remaining ten mean very little to us today…

Why doesn't the Torah list Caleb and Joshua at the beginning of the list, instead of Shammua, the son of Zaccur and Shaphat, the son of Hori? Perhaps because the Torah does not wish to reveal, not even to hint at, the end of the story, in which only Caleb and Joshua expressed optimism as to the chances of the Children of Israel's conquering the Land.

But I personally don't think that this is the main reason. The RaMbaN brings us a more interesting interpretation of this question. In the first place, I would have expected the Torah to list them in the order of the history of the tribes, in other words, in order of the birth of Jacob's sons (Reuven, Simeon, Judah etc.), but this is not the case. So what criterion was used in the list of spies?

The RaMbaN tells us that the tribes are listed in the order of the personal greatness of the spies. The RaMbaN is telling us that the criterion in the Torah here is the greatness of the twelve spies before the mission. This means that Shammua, son of Zaccur, whom nobody remembers today, was in those days the most respected of all. And Shaphat, son of Hori, was more respected than Joshua ben Nun, according to the RaMbaN…

This teaches us that, in the field of leadership, fame is never eternal. A person with a good name must fight hard to keep it…(Let's not forget that Esau became Edom in only an instant, the time it took to sell his birthright, whereas Jacob fought hard to become Israel.)

The story of the spies proves once again that in the field of "good names" the hardest test always lies ahead of us.

Weekly Torah Portion