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Jewish Journal

Imagining Caleb

Parshat Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1)

by Rabbi Zoë Klein

July 8, 2004 | 8:00 pm

Our Torah portion devotes more than 60 verses to the census of the Israelites. After the counting is done, the Torah adds: "Among these there was not one of those enrolled by Moses and Aaron the priest when they recorded the Israelites in the wilderness of Sinai. For the Lord had said of them, 'They shall die in the wilderness.' Not one of them survived, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun" (Numbers 26:64-65).

We learn much about Joshua, his flawless character and heroic acts, in the book named for him. Moses had passed the leadership onto him. However we've known little about Caleb.

Until now.

This week, a new scroll was unearthed in an archaeological dig in the heart of Hebron. At long last, the Scroll of Caleb has been found. I am proud to print the opening chapter of this outstanding discovery:

I, Caleb son of Jephunneh from the tribe of Judah, am one of only two survivors of the 40-year march across the wilderness. My name simply means "dog," and I am loyal as one, as I told Joshua, "While my companions who went up with me took the heart out of the people, I was loyal to the Lord my God." Only I and Joshua were witness to all, the brutality of Egypt, the trials of the desert, the revelation of Mount Sinai and the crossing of the Jordan into this bountiful land.

Many look at me and ask, "Why him? He is neither more noble than his sojourners, nor more clever. He has not the strength of giants nor the dreams of a prophet." They see the power that Moses, that servant of God, bestowed upon Joshua, how Joshua split the Jordan river, brought down the walls of Jericho and made the sun stand still so the earth skidded through the sky as if on a slick sapphire pavement.

"But this Caleb," they say, "this old dog, what is unique about him? What magic does he possess?"

I have been a good man, none can contest that fact. I was one of the 12 spies Moses sent to scout the Promised Land. Ten returned to dishearten the people with fright of ferocious natives. Only Joshua and I brought a positive report, and it is written of me, "Caleb hushed the people before Moses and said, 'Let us by all means go up and we shall gain possession of it.'"

I hushed the people when no one could, and quieted their fears. I told them the truth about that blessed land where every tree tumbled with bright, ripe fruit. I have proved myself to be a brave and strong commander, defeating the Anakim whom all else feared.

"These things he's done," they say, "are admirable things. However, they are not nearly the same as making the sun stand still!"

And so, curious ones, I will answer your inquiry upon this parchment, and seal it here in Hebron, for a future age to discover and wonder about. I will tell you now exactly who I am, and why I merited entrance into the land.

I am you. Yes, I, Caleb son of Jephunneh, am you, you in the business suit, you in the summer dress, I am you when you were in the desert thousands of years ago. And I am you now. I am you when you look at yourself and see not the long shadows of the past but the blossoming future. I am you when you look at your neighbor and see no ugliness there but God's radiant image. I am you when you feel not like a grasshopper beside the people you admire, but a worthy colleague, and equal. I am you when you hush your doubts about yourself, quiet your fears, and rise to your glorious potential. I am you when you pass your hand over the heaps of the world and find there the jeweled spirit just underneath the husks. I am you when you replace "I wish I could" with "Yes, I can." I am you when you walk into a roomful of strangers with your head held high instead of skirting the wall, afraid someone will see. I am you when you are a breath of love in the world. I am you when you stop worrying how people will consider your ideas.

It is true, I am no Joshua. I cannot make the sun stand still. But I did reach the Promised Land as he, because I was true to myself and loyal to my God.

And you, too, will reach your promise, when you are true to your highest self. You are as worthy as I, and you need not be afraid of your potential. You were created for a reason. No creature big or small is superfluous in this abundant garden. Just as I, from Egypt, reached the Promised Land, you, from whatever low place you think you are, can reach your promise, fulfill it and enter the living dream.

Zoë Klein is associate rabbi at Temple Isaiah.

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