Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Shlach (Numbers 13-15)

Master Your Surroundings or They Will Master You
The time had come for the Israelites to send spies to the Land of Israel to make a reconnaissance mission. Before entering the Land, they needed to know about its inhabitants and terrain. There were twelve spies in all, two of whom (Joshua and Caleb) came back with a positive report and tried to dissuade the people from believing the harmful description of the Land uttered by the others. Why were Joshua and Caleb different; why was their report positive? The Talmud relates that Caleb went to pray at the burial place of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs in Hebron but Joshua didn’t need to because Moses had prayed for him (see verse 13:16). Question: why would Moses pray only for Joshua but not for Caleb?
There are two methods for reacting to evil. The first is to protest immediately; the second is to remain silent and wait for the right opportunity to speak up.
Each of these approaches has merit but they also have a shortcoming. The advantage of the first approach—protesting immediately— is that the one who criticizes will not be influenced by the bad behavior of the one he is reprimanding; his immediate protest distances him from the damaging deed. The disadvantage of this approach is that his words will probably not be effective in influencing the wrongdoer because it is too close to the incident and the person might get defensive. The advantage of the second approach is that the person’s words are more likely to have an effect but the disadvantage is the longer he remains silent (waiting for the right opportunity), the more prone he is likely to be desensitized to it. If he’s subjected to it long enough, it might even become light in his eyes.Joshua was the prime student of Moses, who knew that his (Joshua’s) character type was that of the first approach mentioned. Moses didn’t need to pray that Joshua not be persuaded to join the spies in their evil ways of speaking against the Land because he knew that Joshua would protest loudly and reject them from the start. However, Moses realized that he needed to pray for Joshua’s protection because the spies might try to harm him for his protests; they didn’t want him to foil their plans with his public protests.
Caleb had a different character disposition; he was like the second approach (the one who waits for the opportune moment before speaking up). Moses didn’t need to pray that he be protected from physical harm. Instead, Caleb needed protection from falling into the trap of becoming numb to the scheme of the other ten spies and deciding to join them. A person can pray for another’s protection from physical harm but not from being seduced into making bad choices because no one can take away our freedom to choose—the choices one makes are his own. Moses’ prayer could be effective only to protect Caleb from physical harm and, as explained, there was no concern that Caleb would be physically harmed. Caleb needed protection from being influenced by the negativity of the spies and losing the focus and sensitivity of his mission of bringing back a positive report about the Land. He would have to battle that potential internal struggle by himself. Therefore, he went to Hebron, the final resting place of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs (Abraham and Sara; Isaac and Rebecca; Jacob and Leah), each of whom was a paragon of prayer. It is specifically this place that Caleb chooses to pray from the depths of his heart (that he would not be influenced by the deceitful report of the other ten spies).
What type of character do you have, are you a Joshua or a Caleb? All of us want to stand for the right cause but some people protest and try to fix the situation immediately while others wait for the right moment to patch things up. Many times, we are surrounded by people who are not a good influence on us or our family but due to circumstances beyond our control like a school, neighborhood, or job we don’t say anything even though we might be surrounded by crude and cruel people. Each situation might call for a different approach but we must know that when we are with the wrong crowd long enough, we will be influenced. Caleb had a lifetime of proper living yet still needed to pray with all of his might so that he wouldn’t be influenced by the spies during their reconnaissance mission to Israel. He is a model for the rest of us to pray on a regular basis that we and our family will not be influenced by our negative surroundings. It’s not enough merely to be disgusted by some of the things to which we are exposed, we must actually pray—focus and vocalize our thoughts— that we master our surroundings and not that our surroundings master us. 
Good Shabbos  (Source: Chofetz Chaim al haTorah)
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