This article is dedicated to the dedicated Jewish residents of the Chevron area, and in memory of Hallel Yafa Ariel of Kiryat Arba and Rav Miki Mark of Otniel in the Chevron Hills, both of whom were murdered this past week, hy”d. The residents of the Chevron region live and breathe the past and the future of our people, and inspire us by their love of and commitment to Am Yisrael. May HKBH grant them continued strength.
Redemption – in the story of the spies – came from two kinds of heroes. Yehoshua and Calev both resisted their peers and refused to join them in turning the hearts of their people away from the Land of Israel. Yet their resistance had two very different sources. Yehoshua drew his strength from a prayer uttered on his behalf – and made a part of his identity – by his teacher Moshe, who pleaded that “G-d should save you from the plot of the spies”, whereas Calev made a detour to visit Chevron, where he prayed at the graves of the patriarchs that he not be swayed by his fellow spies (Rashi to Bamidbar 13:16 and 13:22).
Yehoshua was the ultimate disciple of Moshe. Both of them were associated more with G-d than with Israel. Moshe – theIsh HaElokim (Man of G-d) – was raised outside of his family in the house of Pharaoh, and then – after growing up and leaving that house – was removed from his nation as well, to live and raise his family in the land of Midian. Moshe was distanced by G-d from his roots, as well as from his branches, as his children did not succeed him nor even follow in any notable manner in his ways. He was a man of G-d more than a man of the people. Yehoshua, his student, joined Moshe in his Divine isolation, waiting for Moshe at the foot of the mountain (Shemos 24:13, 32:17) and never leaving Moshe’s tent (Shemos 33:11). And, like Moshe, Yehoshua did not have children who succeeded him (TB Megillah 14b).
What protected Yehoshua, the man of G-d, from joining with the spies? G-d’s repeated wish and command that the Jewish people enter the land of Israel. G-d thus saved him from the plot of the spies.
Calev, on the other hand, was a man of the people. Calev would marry Miriam, who questioned how Moshe could leave his family for the sake of pursuing the word of G-d (Bamidbar 12:1). Calev and Miriam would together create the offspring that would ultimately result in the Davidic dynasty (TB Sotah 11b), producing the king charged with the national destiny of the Jewish people, whose heart is the heart of the Jewish community (Rambam Hilchos Melachim 3:6).
What protected Calev, the man of the people, from joining the spies? His familial and national identity. Calev visited his forefathers buried in Chevron where he was reminded of his roots and destiny in Eretz Yisrael. That visit and vision precluded him from joining with the spies in rejecting the land that represents both the past and the future of his people.
Redemption comes from two kinds of heroes, from two sources of strength. From those linked to our land and people by the word of G-d, and from those linked to our land and people by a profound commitment to our national identity and destiny.
This July the Fourth is not only the 240th birthday of the United States; it is also the fortieth anniversary of Operation Thunderbolt, the rescue operation that liberated 98 Israeli and Jewish hostages held in Entebbe. A member of our extended family was one of those hostages, and she told me that what kept her and her husband strong through the ordeal was both their Bitachon, their trust in G-d, as well as a confident hope that was shared by a fellow hostage who reassured them that they needn’t worry; their brothers in Israel would not leave them there. They would come for them.
The idea was on its face preposterous. Uganda was separated from Israel by more than 2,000 miles of enemy territory. The notion that Israel would somehow be able to come and save them defied the imagination. Yet he was confident that they would; that the strength of one Jew’s commitment to another – the heroism of Calev – would indeed defy the imagination and they would come to bring them home. He was correct, though sadly he himself was one of the three hostages who was killed in the crossfire during the rescue. Hashem Yikom Damo.
This July the Fourth is also the 42nd wedding anniversary of Natan and Avital Sharansky. They married a day before Avital’s exit visa to Israel expired. The next day she left Moscow for Israel, spending the next twelve years working for her husband’s freedom and waiting to see him again.
The Sharanskys became the symbols of a movement that galvanized both Soviet and American Jewry. The American campaign for the freedom of Soviet Jewry awoke a powerful sense of Jewish connection in Jews who were not particularly attuned to the word of G-d, but who discovered through this movement a connection to their people. As Natan described:
“This unique opportunity which they got to be involved actively in advancing Jewish history, in fighting to help their brothers; it was to them also a very important connection that they were building between their own pasts, the past of their fathers and grandfathers who left Russia, who left Europe, who were escaping Pogroms, and their mutual future and our mutual future which was in Israel.… Whether we were all going to Israel or not, it was clearly something that united us.”
The Soviet Jews themselves were driven by the spirit of Calev to be a part of their people, a people with a storied past that they would discover in the Bible, and a future that they read about in Leon Uris’ Exodus. Their connection began more national than religious, as Natan described:
“It’s true that when we started reading the Bible, it was very difficult for us. For people who were very advanced, as we believed in physics and chemistry and mathematics, we understood that all this is myth, story, it cannot be real. But parallel to this, very quickly, you are reading about the history of your people, you want to be part of this history, and you discover your identity. Religious stories also become part of your identity, and you love it. And of course when you’re in prison, that’s the best place to understand that there are things which you cannot explain by logic, and the fact that you are saying no the KGB is not for some material reasons. The fact that you feel very strongly that your physical survival is not the highest value in your life means that there are different values, spiritual values. Prison is a good place to become close to religion.”
The Entebbe rescue itself, coming as it did in the heat of the struggle for Soviet Jewry, was a galvanizing event for the Soviet Jews, encouraging them. When they came to arrest Natan Sharansky, he had a picture of Yoni Netanyahu on his wall, as “a reminder that the State of Israel will save us”. The value that gave those hostages hope – that Jews would be there for each other, that they would not leave them there – gained new life in Entebbe and inspired a similarly appropriate confidence in the hearts of Soviet Jews, that their people would not abandon them, that the Jews of the world would not leave them there.
That is a very heartening and deeply inspiring confidence. It is born of a Calev-like sense of connection to Am Yisrael; to a rich past that originates with Avraham of Chevron, and a richer future, that will be reborn – as was the kingdom of David – in that same city of Chevron. This connection and visceral commitment to our fellow Jew is a feeling that needs to be nurtured and respected in all of us, to whatever extent we are currently attuned to the word of G-d.
Because redemption comes from two kind of heroes.