We have now reached one of the turning points in Jewish History. After the emotional rollercoaster that befell the wandering nation, they reach the outskirts of the land of Israel preparing for their inevitable and grand entrance to the Promised Land. It was to end like a romantic novel, smiles and happiness for all, with a content feeling of reaching physical and spiritual heights, incomparable to life today. Imagine just how they felt as they could literally taste and touch the doorway to their destiny.
But it was not to be. The spies, or emissaries for a more accurate description, led by fear and trepidation, misrepresented their journey into the land. This left the Jewish People literally stuck between a rock and a hard place, with 40 years of turmoil in the dessert.
It was Kalev who stood up against the lies, arguing that with Moshe leading them, they could fight every battle and achieve victory. Surely having come so far, the road might still be difficult and the terrain challenging, but overcoming all these obstacles was within their reach?
Rashi comments on Kalev’s brave testimony, adding that even if Moshe would tell them to make ladders to climb to the heavens they would succeed. But why mention ladders? Surely Rashi could have simply said that with Moshe’s leadership the Jewish People could succeed in reaching the heavens; why would using ladders help, and what does it add to Kalev’s report?
In truth, we know that ladders could not help anyone reach heaven – the people of Babel tried that once and didn’t get very far, but realistically, even the metaphor runs a little short. However, the sentiment behind the ladders draws out an important principle. In trying to achieve our goals, we have to be seen to do everything we can, with all our strength, will and determination. Rashi added the aspect of the ladders because they symbolise making an effort to reach the heavens, even though, realistically, they would not help at all. So, too, in life we are required to exert ourselves in order to achieve greatness, showing willingness and effort, even if at times it feels futile. We must be seen to make the effort so that we do genuinely deserve our desired goal.
This is also an important message for our children. We work through life doing our best, sometimes we win and there are times we fail, but we must always apply ourselves to the fullest. The daughter of pharaoh was praised because she managed to reach for Moshe’s basket in the Nile, even though it was beyond her reach. God has a way of leaving things for us just out of our reach, but we must encourage ourselves and others to climb our own ladders, and thereby reach the Heavens.