Shelach – Yes We Can
The Rebbe of Piaseczno, Rabbi Klonymus Kalman Shapiro, lived in the Warsaw ghetto during the Second World War. He established a secret synagogue and invested tremendous efforts in helping maintain Jewish life amidst the horrors of the war. The Jews in the ghetto were, understandably, quite worried and despondent about their circumstances and the future of the Jewish people in general. Each Shabbat the Rebbe delivered u[lifting Torah thoughts, inspiring his followers and boosting their spirits. These sermons were later copied on scraps of paper and buried for safekeeping in a canister inside the ghetto.
In June, 1941, on the Shabbat during which Parshat Shelach was read in Synagogues around the world, the Rebbe spoke about the spies’ report to the people. The spies returned from their scouting trip and acknowledged that the land indeed flows with milk and honey. They displayed the fruit of the land which they had carried back for all to see. “However,” they continued, “the cities are well fortified and the people are mighty. Great and powerful nations dwell in that land and we do not have the strength to challenge them.” (paraphrased from Numbers 13:27-29)
The people listened to the report cried in despair. They wailed for their destiny of dying in the wilderness. Caleb and Joshua were the two spies who did not lose hope, and who retained their confidence that God would keep His word and drive away the inhabitants of the land from before Israel. Caleb silenced the people and said: “…We can surely go up and take possession of it, for we can indeed overcome it.” (Numbers 13:30).
How, asked the Rebbe, did Caleb intend for these words to address the worries of the people? There were serious issues raised by the spies, challenges of mighty warriors whom Israel could not naturally defeat. There were fortified cities which Israel could not hope to penetrate, according to the report. They had an impregnable missile defense system and their offensive capabilities were equally formidable. Caleb’s words ignored these material concerns and simply said, (to paraphrase a politician) “Yes We Can!” How was this supposed to persuade the people? What was Caleb’s plan?