What Made Joshua and Caleb Different?
Family Edition

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The Summary

This summary is adapted from this week’s main Covenant & Conversation essay by Rabbi Sacks.

When twelve men were sent out from Bnei Yisrael to scout the land of Canaan, ten of them returned with a very misleading report. In truth, they were afraid of the Canaanites, not realising that the Canaanites were fearful of Bnei Yisrael too. But there are two obvious questions: First, why did ten spies make the mistake of having fear instead of faith? Second, why did two of them, Yehoshua and Calev, not have the same fear?

Carol Dweck explores why some people fulfil their potential while others do not. It all began when she watched some 10-year-olds working on puzzles. When the puzzles were difficult, some of them relished the challenge. Others became anxious and gave up quickly. Dweck wanted to understand why. Why do some people enjoy being tested? What makes some people grow through adversity while others become demoralised?

Her research drove her to the conclusion that it is a matter of mindset. Some see their abilities as given and unalterable. If we believe that we are all either gifted or ordinary, and there is not much we can do about it, she says we have a “fixed mindset”. Other people believe that we grow through our efforts. When we fail, we don’t define this as a failure but as a learning experience. She calls this the “growth mindset”. Those with a fixed mindset avoid difficulties because they fear failure. People with a growth mindset react differently. “They don’t just seek challenge. They thrive on it. The bigger the challenge, the more they stretch.”

Parents can help, she says. Rather than tell a child that they are clever, and gifted, which could imply their talent is fixed, parents should praise them for their effort and their willingness to try hard even if they fail. The fixed mindset lives with the constant fear of failure. The growth mindset doesn’t think in terms of failing at all. Apply this logic to the spies, and we see something fascinating. The spies were princes, leaders, and men of renown. They did not want to be seen to fail. That may be why they returned and said, in effect: We cannot win against the Canaanites. So we should not even try.

There were two exceptions, Calev and Yehoshua. Calev came from the tribe of Yehuda, and Yehuda was the first baal teshuvah. Early in life, he had been the one who led the brothers into selling Yosef into slavery. But he matured. Later on, he offered to spend his life as a slave so that his brother could go free. Yehuda is the clearest example of someone who takes adversity as a learning experience rather than a failure. He had a growth mindset. It seems that his direct descendant, Calev, learnt from this too.

As for Yehoshua, the text tells us, specifically in the story of the spies, that Moshe changed his name. Initially, he was called Hoshea, but Moshe added a letter to his name, and he became Yehoshua. A name change always implies a change of character or calling. Abram became Avraham. Yaakov became Israel. When our name changes, says Rambam, it is as if we or someone else were saying, “You are not the same person as you were before.” Anyone who has experienced a name change has been inducted into a growth mindset.

People with a growth mindset do not fear failure. They relish challenges. They know that if they fail, they will try again until they succeed. It is no coincidence that the two people among the spies who had the growth mindset were also the two who were unafraid of the risks and trials of conquering the land. Nor can it be accidental that the ten others, all of whom carried the burden of people’s expectations (as leaders, princes, men of high rank), were reluctant to do so.

So the story of the spies holds a significant message for us. God does not ask us never to fail. He asks of us that we give our best. He lifts us when we fall and forgives us when we fail. It is this that provides us with the courage to take risks. That is what Yehoshua and Calev knew, one through his name change, the other through the experience of his ancestor Yehuda.

Here’s the strange but important truth: Fear of failure causes us to fail. It is our willingness to fail that allows us to succeed.

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Around the Shabbat Table

  1. Do you think Moshe had a fixed mindset or a growth mindset?
  2. If your name were to be changed to reflect or encourage growth, what would your new name be?          
  3. Should we fear a fear of failure?
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Parsha in Passing

Moshe dispatches twelve spies to explore the land of Canaan. After forty days, they return with a large cluster of grapes, a pomegranate, and a fig, attesting to the land’s abundance. However, ten of the spies caution that the inhabitants are formidable giants and warriors, claiming, “They are stronger than us.” Only Calev and Yehoshua assert that, as God commanded, the land can be conquered. The people mourn their predicament, expressing a preference to return to Egypt.

Consequently, God decrees a forty-year delay before Israel can enter the land, during which the current generation will perish in the desert. Some remorseful Jews attempt to storm the border mountain but are defeated by the Amalekites and Canaanites.

This week’s parsha also introduces the laws of meal, wine, and oil offerings and the mitzvah to set aside a portion of dough (challah) for God when baking bread. Additionally, a man who violates the Shabbat by gathering sticks is sentenced to death. God then commands the placing of fringes (tzitzit) on the four corners of garments to remind the Israelites to observe the Divine commandments.

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Parsha People

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The Spies: The men who doubted, filled with fright, saw giants looming in the night.

Calev and Yehoshua: Two of ten scouts, brave and true, believed in God and led us through.

Tzitzit: Fringes on corners in threads of blue, remind us always to think of You.

Moshe: A leader dismayed by their report, saw faith and courage fall oh so short.

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Parsha Practical

Wearing tzitzit is a practical mitzvah that seamlessly connects with the philosophy of a growth mindset. The fringes worn on the four corners of men’s garments, remind us to follow God’s mitzvot and strive for spiritual growth. By donning tzitzit, we are continually prompted to reflect on our potential to improve and grow in our faith and actions.

Just as those with a growth mindset see challenges as opportunities for development, the tzitzit encourages us to view each day as a chance to enhance our spiritual lives. The blue thread (techelet) among the fringes symbolises the heavens, reminding us to aspire higher and live by divine principles. This parallels the growth mindset, where our current state does not confine us but always seeks progress and fulfilment of our potential.

Wearing tzitzit cultivates mindfulness and a proactive attitude towards mitzvot, much like the growth mindset, which fosters resilience and continuous improvement.

Each time we see the tzitzit, we are inspired to evaluate our actions, learn from our experiences, and commit to doing better, embracing challenges as steps towards spiritual growth and fulfilment. Thus, the mitzvah of tzitzit embodies the essence of a growth mindset in our journey of faith and personal development.

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Parsha Playoff

Let’s play ”Cluster Chaos!” Create a relay race where players must carry a ‘cluster of grapes’ (a bunch of small soft toys or balls tied together) without dropping anything. To add a fun twist, they can only use their pinkies or elbows to carry the object. Divide the family into two teams, and the team that transports the ‘grapes’ the fastest wins. If a ‘grape’ drops, you must return to the starting point and begin again. This game emphasises teamwork, balance, and careful handling, reflecting the spies’ cautious transport of the giant grape cluster from Canaan.

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Parsha Philosophy

Rabbi Sacks takes us behind the scenes of success and failure, using the story of the spies sent by Moshe as a metaphor. He contrasts the “fixed mindset” with the “growth mindset,” concepts introduced by psychologist Carol Dweck. Those with a fixed mindset, like the ten spies, avoid challenges due to fear of failure, driven by the need to protect their reputations and meet others’ expectations.

Conversely, individuals with a growth mindset, exemplified by Calev and Yehoshua, embrace challenges and view failures as opportunities for learning and growth. Rabbi Sacks emphasises that God does not demand perfection but asks for our best efforts. This mindset empowers us to take risks and grow from our experiences.

The fear of failure leads to actual failure, while the willingness to fail paves the way to success. By adopting a growth mindset, we can overcome fear, take on challenges, and ultimately achieve tremendous success.

  • Consider a time in Tanach when someone had to adopt a growth mindset. How did they grow?
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Parsha Parable


Have you ever tried to imagine what it would be like navigating a busy day if you didn’t have arms or legs? Can you envision your life without the ability to walk, handle basic needs, or even embrace your loved ones? This is the reality for Nicholas Vujicic (pronounced voo-yi-chich). Born in 1982 in Melbourne, Australia, Nick entered the world without arms and legs, a condition undetected by any doctor before he was born. The Vujicic family was faced with the dual challenge and blessing of raising a son who would not let his physical condition dictate his life.

Nick’s early years were filled with difficulty. As a child, he faced not only the usual trials of school and adolescence but also profound struggles with depression and loneliness. He often questioned why he was different and pondered the purpose of his life, wondering if he even had one.

But his parents taught him positivity and by the time he was 17 years old, he was giving inspirational talks at school and church-sponsored events. Today he is an award-winning actor, published author, motivational speaker, and a faster-than-average typist! He never knew if he would be able to have children, but happily, he and his wife Kanae have a beautiful family, and together they have two sons and twin daughters.

Nick says “it’s all about attitude”, and he attributes his triumph over struggles and his zest for life today to his unwavering faith in God. His family, friends, and countless others he has met have inspired and supported him.

Nick’s story exemplifies the essence of a growth mindset. Despite seemingly insurmountable challenges, he embraced the belief that he could grow and overcome challenging situations. Instead of being paralysed by his limitations, he saw them as opportunities to strengthen his resolve and expand his capabilities. Nick’s journey is the story of the power of resilience and faith. With a growth mindset, even the most difficult of obstacles can be transformed into pathways for personal and spiritual development. Through his determination and faith, Nick has turned his challenges into catalysts for growth. This is how we can navigate life’s most challenging situations, learn through trying and re-trying, and emerge stronger. His life is a testament to the idea that our potential is not fixed and can always flourish.

illustration of Nicholas Vujicic on beach with family
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Parsha Puzzle


 Who was Calev’s wife?

This Week's Parsha Puzzle Answer:

This one has a hazy answer. According to Sotah 12a, it was Miriam. But in another gemara (Megillah 13a) it is stated that he married Batya. It is unclear whether Kalev therefore married them both, or whether just one of these sources is correct.

This question has been adapted from Torah IQ by David Woolf, a collection of 1,500 Torah riddles, available on Amazon.

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Covenant & Conversation Family Edition

Written as an accompaniment to Rabbi Sacks’ weekly Covenant & Conversation essay, the Family Edition is aimed at connecting teenagers with his ideas and thoughts on the parsha.

With thanks to the Schimmel Family for their generous sponsorship of Covenant & Conversation, dedicated in loving memory of Harry (Chaim) Schimmel.

“I have loved the Torah of R’ Chaim Schimmel ever since I first encountered it. It strives to be not just about truth on the surface but also its connection to a deeper truth beneath. Together with Anna, his remarkable wife of 60 years, they built a life dedicated to love of family, community, and Torah. An extraordinary couple who have moved me beyond measure by the example of their lives.” — Rabbi Sacks

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