The Guiding Light Parshat Shlach: Climbing Our Ladders
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Shlach(Numbers 13-15)

Climbing Our Ladders

Bamidbar, 13:30: “Kaleb silenced the people toward Moses and said: ‘We shall surely go up and conquer it, for we can surely do it!’”

Rashi, 13:30: sv. We shall surely conquer it: “Even [if our destination would be] in the heavens, and he were to say, ‘to make ladders and go up there’, we would succeed through all his words!”

After the ten spies perpetrated their evil speech about the land of Israel, Kaleb arose to supposedly support their arguments. Instead he staunchly defended Moses, citing the numerous instances where he performed miracles for the people. He then confidently asserted that whatever Moshe, God’s messenger, would instruct them to do was completely possible. Accordingly, despite the powerful nations living in the land, the Jewish people could surely conquer it. Rashi elaborates on his words, saying that Kaleb argued that even if Moses would tell them to make ladders to climb to the heavens they would succeed.

Rav Moshe Feinstein asks about Rashi’s language in explaining Kaleb’s arguments.1 Why was it necessary for Rashi to add the analogy of climbing up ladders in order to reach the heavens; it would have been sufficient to simply write, “If he were to say, ‘go up to the heavens’”. What did the aspect of the ladders add, seeing that in reality ladders would not make it any easier to reach the heavens?! He answers that this comes to allude to an important principle: When a person tries to achieve greatness and is willing to do everything in his power to achieve his goal, then God will enable him to succeed.2 However, if he merely asks God that he succeed, but is not prepared to make the required effort, then he will surely fail. Accordingly, Rashi added the aspect of the ladders because they symbolize making an effort to reach the heavens even though realistically they would not help. So too, when a person tries to achieve anything, realistically his efforts would not bear fruit without Siyata Dishmaya (Heavenly help). Nevertheless, God requires that he exert himself as much as possible in his endeavor in order to prove that he genuinely desires to achieve his goal. When he does this, then God rewards him by enabling him to succeed against all odds.

This idea applies to all areas of mitzvah observance and general attempts to perform great accomplishments in the spiritual realm. There are many instances in Tanach of how great people recognized the need to make the effort to attain seemingly impossible goals, and were miraculously rewarded with Siyata Dishmaya. One of the most outstanding example is the action of Batya, the daughter of Pharaoh, in drawing the young Moses from the Nile. It is well-known that Batya, put out her arm to reach the baby who was well beyond arms distance, and her arm miraculously extended to enable her to save Moses. What is less analyzed is the fact that she made the seemingly futile attempt to grab Moses at all. How could she expect to be able to reach him when he was so far away?! The answer is based on the above principle: She recognized the need to try to save this baby and therefore she did all that was humanly possible even though b’derech hateva (according to the laws of nature) her actions should have been fruitless. Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz adds that only because she put all her efforts towards this Mitzva was she rewarded with the great miracle that gave her the inestimable merit of saving the future redeemer of the Jewish nation.3

All the great achievers for the Jewish people lived according to this principle. They had seemingly unrealistic dreams but were willing to exert the maximum effort necessary, realizing that they could not achieve anything without Siyata Dishmaya. One of the most outstanding doers in recent Jewish history was the Ponevezher Rav, Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman. He came to Israel after the Holocaust having lost almost everything. In the aftermath of the destruction of the great European centers of learning, he saw a hill in Bnei Brak and envisaged setting up a great yeshiva with hundreds of students there. At the time, his vision was seen as totally unrealistic but he set out to make the utmost effort to achieve his goal, tirelessly travelling around the world raising money for the yeshiva. He surely recognized that, ‘bderech hateva’ his dream was unattainable but through exerting himself he merited incredible Siyata Dishmaya and succeeded in creating the great Ponevezh Yeshiva, one of the largest Yeshivot in the world. May he and all the other great builders of the Jewish nation inspire us to climb our own ladders and thereby reach the Heavens


1. Darash Moshe, Shelach, p.118.

2. Obviously on condition that his goal is something that he deems to be the Ratson HaShem for him at this time,

3. Sichos Musar, Maamer 32, p.135.

Published: May 29, 2013

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Visitor Comments: 1

(1) Jong, June 14, 2014 9:29 PM

Fantastic

Rabbi, thank you so much for reminding me of the importance of making the efforts however seemingly impossible the goal may look.

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