<I>Shelach Lecha</I>: Calev, Rabbi Zecharia and Hamlet

Anvetanusei is a code-word, explains the Talner Rebbe, occurring twice in the Talmud, both times in relation to the same key player in the Temple's destruction on Tisha B'Av.

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch,

Aryeh Hirsch
Aryeh Hirsch
When the spies return with their evil report, and the panic-stricken nation starts crying, Calev "silenced the people against Moshe and said: 'Aloh na'aleh [let's go up] and conquer it, because yachol nuchal lah [we can defeat it]." (Bamidbar 13:30) Rashi comments on "aloh na'aleh: "Even to the heavens, if God would say to make ladders and go up there, we will succeed in all He says." The question is: why ladders? Nobody up to now said anything about ladders.

The key to understanding this episode, which occurred on Tisha B'Av, lies in understanding a basic character trait of Jews, called anava, humility. It is an objective realization of self and self-worth. Anava, as we saw in the previous parsha, B'ha'alotcha, was a primary characteristic of Moshe Rabbeinu (Bamidbar 12:3). Rashi there translates anav, "humble", as "lowly and patient".

Rabbi Yitzchak Weinberg, the Talner Rebbe, quotes the Targum Yonatan as saying that when Moshe saw anvatanusei, the excessive humility, of Yehoshua, Moshe changed Hoshea's name to Yehoshua (Bamidbar 12:16 ). In order to learn Torah from Moshe, Yehoshua humbly allowed an openness to Moshe's teachings of God's Will. This submission and openness is what Moshe feared, and hence the name change.

Anvetanusei is a code-word, explains the Talner Rebbe, occurring twice in the Talmud, both times in relation to the same key player in the Temple's destruction on Tisha B'Av.

In Gitin 56a, the Roman emperor sends an offering to the Temple and Bar Kamtza blemishes it, hoping to start a pogrom against the rabbis, who, Bar Kamtza thinks, will insult the emperor by refusing to offer it. When the rabbis wisely decide to offer the animal anyway, Rabbi Zecharia ben Avkulos objects, saying that ignorant Jews will incorrectly conclude from this that these blemished animals are allowed on the Altar. Okay, say the rabbis, then we'll have to kill Bar Kamtza, so that he cannot return to Rome and inform on us. No again, said Rabbi Zecharia, as again the wrong lesson will be taught, that he who brings blemished animals as a sacrifice is subject to capital punishment. Rabbi Yochanan concludes from this that the anvatanuso of Rabbi Zecharia caused the burning of the Temple and our exile from the land of Israel.

How? Apparently, the same openness to examine all sides of all issues, and the opinions of others, can lead to a suicidal paralysis of will and action. In fact, in the second Talmudic appearance of Rabbi Zecharia (Tosefta, Shabbat 17:4), his inability to chose between the Halachic opinions of Shammai and Hillel led to an excessive strictness in psak, Halachic decisionmaking.

Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski is famous for citing lack of self-esteem as a pervasive, universal psychological problem of modern man. He sees that there are "situations where one must set humility aside and assert oneself." Just as Rashi said that Calev's ladders were raised in response to "the word of God," Rabbi Twerski says that one must "assert oneself in regard to the will of God; one must not use humility as a sense of despair that accompanies futility [as did the spies and the Israelites], but rather as a stimulus to ambition, to reach ever further and higher."

And this, I feel, is the connection to Calev's ladders. The ladder not only is a tool that allows climbing "ever higher," but it has a definite top: God and His will (Rashi on 13:30, "...we will succeed in all His words").

There is another figure in Jewish history who failed on Tisha B'Av, and that failure also involved a ladder. Yaakov Avinu failed to climb his famous ladder. When Yaakov is in Beit El and dreams of his ladder, he sees the guardian angels of the world's great historical empires ascend and descend, all except for that of Eisav - Rome, or Western civilization. That guardian angel ascends, but does not come down (Midrash Rabba, Vayikra). The Almighty tells Yaakov to ascend as well, but in a paralysis of will and action, he is too afraid to go up. God then tells Yaakov that Eisav will eventually reach his downfall, but had Yaakov ascended the ladder, he would never have come down. However, by not ascending, he has doomed Israel to a much different, handmaiden, exilic future: that of Tisha B'Av.

The Talner Rebbe sees this failure of excessive humility as a lack of self-confidence, leading to failure of will and desire to win and "succeed" (Rashi, ibid). In this, he sounds like a Chasidishe Daniel Pipes, the award-winning columnist who decries present-day Israel's failures of the last 14 Oslo-Peace years as a similar lack of vision and desire for victory. Like a modern Rabbi Zecharia, Israel's political leaders look only to the polls and the opinion of the people, and do not lead. Like the spies, they are unworthy and truly incapable ("...lo nuchal....", Bamidbar 13:30) of leading the people.

To round out this cast of characters, I would like to quote from Shakespeare. Many see Hamlet as exhibiting an Rabbi Zecharia-like excessive anvesanusei, with over-calculation leading to a paralysis of action, and in Hamlet's case, to a spies-like depression, crying, suicidal ideation. This , of course, is the famous "to be or not to be" soliloquy, which finishes: "And thus the native hue of resolution is sicklied o'er with the pale cast thought, And enterprises of great pitch and moment with this regard their currents turn awry and lose the name of action." (Act 3; scene 1) As the Talner Rebbe concludes differently, writing, "May Heaven help us to be always proud in our Judaism, never fearful of those who mock us, and may we all don the strength of holiness" in our ascent up the ladder.

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