Kalev’s Visit by Rabbi Ezra Weiner


The Torah records, regarding the מרגלים:"ויעלו בנגב ויבא עד חברן" (במדבר יג:כב).

The Talmud in Sota 34b comments on the apparent switch from the plural (ויעלו) to the singular (ויבא) and stated: Rava says, “This teaches us that Kalev separated himself from the intentions of the spies and went and spread himself out on the graves of the Avot.”

R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch raised the following difficulty with this interpretation.  The Torah tells us that the ילידי הענק (children of giants) were located in Chevron.  If it is indeed true that only Kalev traveled to Chevron how can the entire clan of spies claim later in verse 28, “And we also saw the children of the giants there.”  Secondly, the cantillation (“trop”) on the phrase ויעלו בנגב ויבא עד חברון is a זרקא סגול, which indicates that the subject of both בנגב and חברון is the same (i.e. referring to all of the spies).

R’ Hirsch suggests a more simple understanding of the above phrase which does not contradict the Gemara in Sota and may actually lend some credibility to it as well.  ויבא refers to the same group of people as ויעלו , i.e. the spies.  ויבא is put in the singular to indicate that the spies came to Chevron as one man.  They were in complete unison in mind and purpose with only positive intentions.  However, when they witnessed the children of the giants and huge dimension of the city, they lost their courage.  Kalev’s faith, courage, and determination predominated when they first arrived in Chevron and they were indeed like one man (ויבא).  When Kalev noticed change of heart from this unity, he went to pray at the graves of the Avot for continuing courage.

In truth, therefore, it is not that “ויבא” refers to Kalev who came to Chevron alone but rather it is the sudden change from a unified ויבא that elicited Kalev’s response of Tefillah at the קברי האבות.

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