Note: Those of you who are regular readers of my musings know that I have used, on occasion, a diary format in creating modern, yet anamnetical midrash. (As Tom Lehrer once said "the rest of you can look that up when you get home.") I’ve mused about journals written by Avraham, Yitzkhak, Moshe, Lot and others. This year, I thought it might be interesting to fill in a gap in the Torah using this same literary device. I’ve written in previous musings on this parasha that it’s curious that there is no account of the sights and situations encountered by the 12 spies. We have only the reports upon their return, brief as they are, and with a clear glass half-empty report from the majority and glass-half-full report from a minority consisting of Caleb, and, later supported by Joshua (but it’s easy to infer from the text that Joshua may have been a little more reticent than Caleb to speak up, and the first we know of Joshua’s feelings is when he tears his clothes along with Caleb after the people react with fright and geshrying after being told the embellished fabrication of the giants that occupied the promised land that would prevent the people from occupying it.
I think our view of this whole incident might be quite different if the torah had included an account of the travels of the spies through Canaan. So let’s pretend.
From the Journal of Caleb
Oy vey is mir! Just my luck, being a leader instead of a follower. Moshe says the G"d commanded him to send out spies to check out this Canaan place that we are supposed to occupy as our own. And who do you think Moshe picks from my tribe of Judah? Little ol’ me. When I look at who else was picked from the other tribes, I have a sneaking suspicion that, while we may have been singled out for bravery, we might also have been chosen because we’re somewhat expendable.
I don’t get it, anyway, diary. This G"d, who brought down mighty Egypt with plagues, parted the waters for us, gave us manna to eat, and spoke to us from atop the mountain, needs us to go check out the land that this G"d says is being given to us? Surely, this G"d knows what the situation is, and, with one wave of a hand, can empty the land of people and give it to us. What kind of G"d needs people to do the dirty work?
I know I shouldn’t doubt like this, and I feel guilty. My doubts could doom all of us. Still, I don’t really know if the ancient stories are true. Is this the G"d that knew our people before we were slaves to Pharaoh? Are the stories of Joseph, Jacob, Isaac, and Avraham true, or just myths? Was this land of Canaan truly promised to our ancestors, and be our inheritance? I’m still just not sure about this G"d. I want to believe, I really do. But I have my doubts.
Can’t write much, as the 12 of us are about to set off on our mission. Moshe told us to check out the military strength of the inhabitants, but to check out the terrain and the land as well. Doesn’t Moshe know we’re going to find a land flowing with milk and honey? That’s what this G"d said, isn’t it? Right. We’ll all believe it when we see it. After all, why send us to check it out if we already know what we’ll find? Oh, and get this – Moshe wants us to bring back some fruit. Guess he wants proof. And Moshe says he has complete faith in this G"d. Right.
Anyway, I had to make a note about this one odd thing that happened. You’ll never believe it. Another one of Moshe’s slick publicity stunts. Just as we’re getting our final instructions, Moshe calls Hoshea the Ehpraimite up, does his little hand and staff mumbo jumbo, and announces to all that from now on Hoshea will be known as Yehoshua. Must have some sort of meaning-maybe it’s a sort of talisman to protect us. I don’t know. If Moshe was trying to evoke the protection of this G"d, why not name him Hoshea-El or something like that? I thin it’s weird, but somehow I also think it is gonna be significant. I can’t shake that feeling. I think I’ll try to get to know Hoshea, er, I mean Yehoshua, better.
Sorry it’s been a few days, but we’ve been doing a lot of traveling, mostly through this pretty barren wilderness they call Zin. Finally reach this place called Lebohamath, on the border of Canaan. Fairly sizable place, lots of activity. They didn’t seem too surprised to see a bunch of nomads, and didn’t ask too many questions. Some of the guys spent a lot of time sneaking around checking out the town’s fortifications, and pumping people they met for information about Canaanite cities. Me, I spent more time checking out the local delicacies…and the food, too! Oh, don’t worry diary, I won’t let myself be led astray. I haven’t seen any evidence that their gods are all that powerful or special, and I’m not that desperate or horny. Just a little company and comfort is all I ask, and the native ladies seemed quite accommodating.
Palti, Gadiel, and Ammiel have been muttering and mumbling about how well fortified this place seems. Yes, there are a lot of them, but the people here seem pretty peaceful to me. I almost feel bad that we’re going to have to dispossess them. Tomorrow, we head out into this desert the locals call the Negev, on our way up to Khevron. Oh, joy. Although it’ll be interesting to see if the legends are true about our ancestors tombs in Khevron. I’m not holding my breath.
This is the promised land? This wasteland of dunes, outcroppings, shifting sands? Thank the gods (whoops, I mean G"d) for the occasional oasis. Why would anyone want to live here? Where’s the milk and honey?
Shammua, Sethur, and Nahbi were talking to some traders we met at an oasis yesterday, and they told them that as we headed north into the plains they were going to find a lot of pretty tall people – Anakites, they called them. At least I know that this forsaken desert comes to an end.
Well, here we are in Khevron. Took us quite a bit of time to get here. , but at least we’re out of that desert. Khevron, itself, is quite a ways out of the desert – it isn’t the first place you come to after getting out of the Negev. That distinction belongs to a little hamlet we passed through called Beersheva. Hmmm – seven wells. That name rings a bell. I think there’s something in one of the ancient legends about that place and those wells. I couldn’t quite remember, so I asked a few of the other guys. They told me to quit wasting my time on ancient fairy tales, and focus on reconnoitering. I swear, most of them were seeing phantoms. Igal, Shaphat, Geul and Gadi said they ran into these three fellas named Ahiman, Shesai, and Talmai. Said they were the real McCoy – Anakites. Real tall ones. They bought them a few beers to get them talking. They asked them if all the people up north from where they came were as tell, and they said "of course." Some people will believe anything. Somehow, I have my doubts.
Finally, this land of milk and honey didn’t seem like such a myth. This region was pretty fecund, with lots of orchards and vineyards, and good, fertile soil.
We sat around deciding where to go next. Everyone wanted to check out this placed called the Wadi Eschol, where there were supposed to be giant grapes. I think I was the only one who wanted to be a tourist and an explorer. "Guys," I said. "Here we are in Khevron. Not a stone’s throw from here is the legendary cane at Makhpelah. Aren’t any of you curious to see if we’re on a snipe hunt or not?" Once again, I was shouted down. "Legends, shmegends" said all the others, even Joshua. Let’s go get some of those giant grapes – and have some giant glasses of wine, too!"
"Not me," I found myself saying out loud. “I’m going to look for that cave." Suit yourself," said Yehoshua and the others. "We’ll stop on the way back and pick you up before we head home."
Diary, you are not going to believe this. I found it! I’ve actually been there. The tomb the ancient stories talk about, in Makhpelah. I asked around to see if there was anybody who knew of a cave in a field near here. No one knew a thing, but then I found this old woman who said she had heard of such a place. Tales passed down in her family for generations. She said she was descended from the original occupants of this place, the Hittites, and they used to call this place that was now Khevron by the name Mamre. The stories told of a man who came from a distant land, and lived among our people for a while. When his wife died, he asked permission to buy a field with a cave in it that he could use as a burial place. She said, "My ancestors were pretty good merchants – they managed to extract almost 400 shekels – and that was a lot of money back then – for the land. It’s said that others of his family and his line are buried there as well. We may have extracted a high price for the land, but we always honored the contract. I know where the place is, and if you are truly a descendant of this man, I will show it to you."
I asked, "How can you know if I am truly a descendant of this man?" "It is simple," she said. "We have been taught to ask only one question. What is the name of the god that you worship?"
"We do not know his name," I answered. "He is what he is, and what he will be. He has done mighty and awesome deeds for us"
"That may well be, but I cannot show you the tomb," she said.
I turned to go, disappointed. It seemed that perhaps the stories, the legends were all true. Perhaps this land really was ours to possess. Yet I might never know. I thought hard to try and remember all I knew of the ancient tales.
"Wait," I turned and said to the old woman. I thought of that moment back when Moshe changed Hoshea’s name. I remember wondering why he didn’t just add "El" to it, as has been our custom. At one time, our ancestors had known this G"d by the name El.
"I worship the One G"d El," I said to the old woman.
"Well, I am sure there are many gods," said the woman, "but El is, indeed, the one worshipped by those buried in that place. If you are a worshipper of El, I will take you there."
She took me to a field far away from town. In the field there was a tall, old oak tree. Nearby, at the foot of a small hill, was the entrance to a small cave. Just as the stories told, there was evidence of six burials. Of all the great ancestors, only Yaakov’s beloved Rakhel was buried elsewhere, said the legends. Could this truly be the resting place of Avraham, Yitzkhak, Ya’akov, Sarah, Rivka, and Leah?
"There men, and their wives are buried here, we are taught. Strangely, the man who bought this place did not bury the wife he took after his first wife died. One of the other men had two wives, but only buried one here. We do not know where the other is."
"These are truly my ancestors," I told the woman. "Everything is as it should be according to the ancient tales."
"Have you come to claim this place back?" asked the old woman.
I did not know how to answer her. For the first time in my life I truly believed that it was our destiny to come and live in this land that G"d had given to our ancestors. My entire outlook had changed.
"Not now, " I responded. "Yet, if our G"d, the G"d known to my ancestors as El, wills it, then it surely will be so."
"When you come to claim this place in the name of your god, I ask you, and ask your god to remember that there are people already living here. Treat us with kindness and mercy, and do not chase us out of our homes."
"As G"d wills," I replied.
She turned to go. "Then I will pray that you god is merciful," she replied, and walked out back into the field and disappeared from sight.
I didn’t sleep well last night.
I’ve spent these last few days thinking about all that has happened. I know now, in my heart, that the ancient stories are true. This land was promised to us, and G"d is ready to give it to us. Of this I am certain. There may be fortified cities, and tall men, but nothing is too great for this G"d. I can’t wait to get home and tell everyone.
The guys got back in town today, carrying with them this truly huge cluster of grapes on a frame. I’ve never seen grapes so big, or so many of them in one cluster. It takes two to carry it! This is truly a land flowing with milk and honey. If only the others shared my enthusiasm. They may have found some giant grapes, but it seems they have developed severe case of the frights as well. To his credit, Yehoshua keeps trying to tell them that we can take these guys, but the rest of them act like quivering cowards, and complain of the great strength of these people, and fear for their own lives. How can they doubt?
I, of course, told them of my discovery. To them, it was more like a swindle, a con game, than anything. "The old woman sure got your goat!" they said. "Probably saw the word sucker written on your forehead." "How much did you pay her?"
They just didn’t get it. Yehoshua wasn’t much help, although I noticed he didn’t join in their chorus of derision. Later, he took me aside and asked me to tell him my whole story again. He listened intently. Finally he said, "I’m just a good military strategist – that’s why Moshe picked me for this job, I suppose. I don’t have Moshe’s faith, but I can see how important it is to the people that they believe, and have faith in the G"d. Without that, there’s no hope we could ever occupy these lands."
"What will you tell Moshe and the people when we get back?"
"The odds are against us, though not as badly as the rest of these cowards are saying. I’m not afraid of a good fight like some of them are. Yet, if we’re going to be in a fight, I know the people need something to rally around, to believe in."
"So, what will you tell them, Yehoshua?" I asked. "Will you back me up."
"I don’t know kid, I just don’t know."
©2008 by Adrian A. Durlester
Adrian A. Durlester