Can You Climb to the Heavens? - שלח

Friday, 16 June, 2023 - 2:04 pm

Can You Climb to the Heavens? 

Ten of the twelve spies that Moses dispatched to scout the land of Israel reported back to the people that the task was impossible. They said: "We are unable to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we." Caleb and Joshua fiercely disagreed. The Torah describes Caleb's response: 

Caleb silenced the people to [hear about] Moses, and he said, "We can surely go up and take possession of it, for we can indeed overcome it." (Numbers 13:30)

Quoting the Talmud, Rashi gives the full version of Caleb's statement to the people:

We can surely go up: even to heaven; if he tells us, "make ladders and go up there," we will succeed in whatever he says. 

Why does Caleb employ this unusual imagery of climbing to the heavens with ladders, seemingly an impossibility, instead of evoking a more realistic example that the people could relate to? 

The spies sought to dissuade the people from entering Israel, not because they did not value Israel as the Holy Land where one's connection to G-d can be felt and expressed to the greatest degree, but rather, they hesitated to enter the land precisely because they understood the intense holiness of Israel. They understood that living in an environment of potent holiness requires a person to tune in to and align with its holiness. Living in Israel without soaring to great spiritual heights, they argued, is not just a missed opportunity but also offensive. "Israel", they argued, is "a land that consumes those who dwell in it," Israel cannot tolerate "dwelling" in one place without constant spiritual growth. The spies did not feel that the Jewish people were capable of connecting to the holiness of Israel, and therefore tried to persuade them to remain in the desert. 

Caleb disagreed. "We can surely go up: even to heaven". Every Jew can "ascend to heaven" and connect to the intense spiritual heights accessible in the Land of Israel. How so? Caleb explains: "if he tells us, "make ladders and go up there”, we will succeed in whatever he says”. The ladder, composed of many individual steps, is the image Caleb evoked to demonstrate that the path to ascend to heaven is not dramatic or extreme, it is a series of small steps. Focus on one step at a time, focus on the next positive action, and you will reach success.   

(Adapted from Maayanah Shel Torah)

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