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Rabbi's Corner

Shlach – Rabbi Lerner – June 23, 2019

Yehoshua and Calev and Yehoshua against the majority

After their return from spying out the land and lauding the quality of the land and its produce, the Meraglim then say these fateful words 13:28-29: Efes – But – the people that dwell in the land are powerful, the cities greatly fortified, and we also saw there the offspring of the giant. Amalek dwells in the area of the south; the Chiti, Yevushi, and Emori dwell on the mountain; and the Canaani dwell by the Sea and on the bank of the Yarden. Calev and Yehoshua give a different view, with Calev standing up to the Meraglim in 13:30: Calev silenced the people toward Moshe and said, “We shall surely ascend and conquer it, for we can surely do it.” The Meraglim then continued with their disparaging and frightening report, and the people are swayed, and cry, showing no faith in Hashem and Moshe; they cry on the night of Tisha B’av which will remain throughout history as the primary day of mourning and troubles.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: What strength of character did these two have to stand out from the other men of renown? He quotes Carol Dweck, a Stanford psychologist, from her book: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, which addresses the question of why do we find many people who can fulfill their maximum and achieve greatness, while others fail. Rabbi Riskin: when you die Hashem will show you two videos – the first is the one you that shows how you lived your whole life; the second is the life you could have lived, given your potential. Why do a small minority rise to fulfill their potential and achieve greatness? She studied children solving puzzles, how some persevere and succeed, and others do not. Some, when the puzzles became difficult, thrived. They relished the challenge, even when it proved too hard for them. Others became anxious; when the puzzles became hard, they were easily discouraged. The ones who enjoyed being tested and challenged did well, as opposed to those who were demoralized by challenge and failed. She determined that it depends completely on a person’s mindset. Many people see their abilities as given, and assume that is all they have – whether based on genetics, their formative years, or their upbringing – they assume they are a product of their environment and it is unalterable – that is the fixed mindset. Whether they are gifted or ordinary, there is nothing they can do about it. Others believe they can change things, that they can grow and it is all in their hands – it is called the growth mindset – it is a very powerful thing. The Rav came from a tradition of geniuses, Rosh Yeshivas, brilliant Torah scholars, who spawned all of the modern Yeshivas. Rav Chaim Volozhin, the Netziv, became a giant but according to legend did not start that way. In My Uncle the Netziv there is a story of how he was a person of ordinary capabilities and a weak student; his father was a businessman who had sent him to yeshiva, where his record was not sterling. When he overheard his father telling his mother that they should groom him to take over his business since he was not going anywhere with his learning, he had an epiphany. He realized that he loved to learn, and he changed his learning style – he buckled down and threw himself into learning morning and night. When Chaim Nachman Bialik was frum and learning there, he found inspiration in the Netziv, how he would never leave the Bais Midrash – when everyone else was going to sleep late at night, he was still there – he would take buckets of ice water and stick his feet into the buckets to stay awake to learn. Bialik was inspired by this and wrote a poem, Hamatmid, regarding him. The Netziv became a giant and all the modern Yeshivas came from his students. Gemorra Megilla: if a person says he did not put a lot of effort into learning and succeeded, don’t believe him – either he is a liar that he did not put in the effort or he doesn’t really know much Torah. Likewise, don’t believe one who says he toiled but did not succeed in his learning. The one who says he toiled and learned a lot, that is the one to believe.

Another story of the Netziv: he was up late one night, learning a difficult sugyah, and couldn’t make sense of a Tosafos in Yemavos. He sent his chavrusah to wake Rav Chaim to explain the Tosafos. When he knocked on the door and no one answered, he returned and said that Rav Chaim must be asleep. The Netziv could not believe it and went to wake him himself – he said it was impossible that a Torah giant like that would be sleeping and not learning.

We see that there are ways of overcoming basic potential – by working hard, one can achieve far more. Hashem does not just drop it into your lap – you must work. Yirmiyahu says, Hashem spoke to him and told him: what caused you to lose the land of Israel and have it become barren like a desert? Hashem said it was because you abandoned His Torah, didn’t listen to His voice and didn’t walk with the Torah. Chazal: the last phrase means that Hashem is teaching us that if one had to choose between abandoning Him vs abandoning the Torah, one should abandon Him – the Torah knowledge will seep into one’s heart and bring him back to Hashem.

Dr. Dweck warns that many people face great challenges and confront them, while others crumble. Those who can stretch and reach great heights, and deal with great problems are those who embrace the challenge and find deeper strengths within their selves. Like the Netziv who could have been a nobody, who forced himself to find powers within himself and change the world. Even if not gifted, if one works hard, one will succeed. The bigger the challenge, the greater the growth and success. It takes hard work. That is the growth mindset. Baalei Mussar: Seven times the Tzadik falls down, and each time he rises; he keeps getting up to fight the next challenge and adversity. We don’t give in because life is difficult.

What was it about Calev and Yehoshua that allowed them to buck the trend? The Torah tells us that they were all great men of distinction, all had a great sense of importance. Rabbi Sacks: often a person of distinction will be cautious and unwilling to take a risk of failure; he is not willing to take on a new challenge. He will play it safe and not take on any new risk. People who do not want to endanger their level of social standing will not reach their potential. This was the mindset of ten of the Meraglim – they were already great and did want to risk putting their reputations at risk. They did not want to believe in Hashem and the Jewish people’s potential -they already had it made and did not want to gamble. Calev and Yehoshua were the only two who were willing to risk.

What gave Calev and Yehoshua to be different from the others? Calev was a descendant of Yehuda – he was the first Baal Teshuvah in the story of Tamar. She was ready to be executed rather than say who impregnated her; Yehuda lived up to his name and publically confessed. He is seen as the model of Teshuva – he risked losing his luster and recognized his faults. It catapulted him to a higher level. Yosef started out as a haughty child, whose actions tore the house apart. Ultimately Yosef in Mitzrayim is confronted by Yehuda, who offers to be a guarantor and replacement as a prisoner and slave for his brother Binyamin. We are called Yehudim not so much because most Jews are from the tribe of Yehuda, but because Yehuda excelled with words of confession and a willingness to be a guarantor of his brother. He passed this trait down to his descendants, down to Calev – whose name is bekal lev – with his whole heard he served God.

Yehoshua was the trusted shamash of Moshe. Moshe changed his name from Hoshea, putting in the name of Hashem into his name. It changed his personality. Rambam in Hilchos Teshuva: one of the techniques to inspire Teshuva is to change one’s name – it is a powerful method of Teshuva. Rabbi Sacks: “A change of name always implies a change of character or calling. Avram became Avraham. Yacov became Yisrael. When our name changes, says the Rambam, it is as if we or someone else were saying, “You are not the same person as you were before.” Anyone who has experienced a name-change has been inducted into a growth mindset. The underlying rationale is that changing the name means one is a different identity – he is no longer the person who sins and fails; he realized how he messed himself up; he changes his name to remind him that he is a different person who will now undergo an incredible transformation. This is the power of a name change – it allowed him to be a new person with growth potential – he now is a different person emotionally and psychologically. He is no longer a failure.

People with growth mindset relish change and become someone greater, someone willing to take on challenge. Hashem welcomes Baalei Teshuva and values them as greater than tzadikim with yichus. Pulling oneself up with one’s own initiative is great. The other Meraglim did not want to risk their status with bad advice and possible failure; they were already important and their egos got in the way of what needed to be done. Calev and Yehoshua were willing to change and take on challenge. Hashem gave Avraham ten incredible trials, with each bringing him higher to a greater level. Being a Jew means being willing to grow and became a greater person. Hashem doesn’t ask us never to fail – humans will encounter challenge and fail. We should try to do things that are difficult, and if we fail, we should pick ourselves up and become better. We are not supposed to just coast along. If we go through failure, we are to learn from it and pick ourselves up and try again – it will make us greater people when we overcome that failure – Hashem will then help us to a higher level. The fear of failure causes us to fail; the willingness to fail allows us to succeed. That is how Calev and Yehoshua were able to stand up to the others.

Tue, October 15 2019 16 Tishrei 5780