Saturday, July 02, 2022

The Children of Israel are about to enter the Promised Land and Moshe sends 12 spies on a reconnaissance mission. Tragically, the story ends with the terrible report of the 10 spies, culminating in the death of an entire generation in the wilderness. Only Calev and Yehoshua return with a positive account of the country.

But it wasn’t random luck that brought these two heroes to stand up for Hashem’s honor. It was intentional. Our Sages explain (Sotah 34b) that upon entering the land, the first stop on Calev’s itinerary was Hebron, where he visited the Cave of Machpelah, the resting place of the patriarchs and matriarchs. “My forefathers,” he beseeched, “pray for mercy for me that I be saved from the counsel of the other spies!”

But what about Yehoshua? Why didn’t he go to Hebron?

The year was 2004. I was attending Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter’s rabbinic seminar at the Soloveitchik Institute in Boston. Following the three-day gathering, Rabbi Schacter invited us to pay our respects at the Rav’s kever. The opportunity could not have come at a more critical time in my family’s life. My wife and I were trying to have another baby and had experienced two miscarriages. I davened at the kever for a healthy baby. And miraculously, exactly nine months later, our daughter Joey was born.

Why didn’t Yehoshua visit the Cave of Machpelah? Our Sages point to a detail that occurs as Moshe is appointing the spies. Upon choosing the representative for the tribe of Ephraim, he changes his name from Hoshea to Yehoshua. The addition of the ‘yud’ was a blessing to his protégé that he be protected from the peer pressure of the other spies. Thus, Yehoshua didn’t need to visit the Cave of Machpelah, since he already had Moshe’s bracha.

But still, praying at the graves of our forefathers presumably wouldn’t have hurt. Why didn’t he go with Calev to the most sacred place in the land?

They say that Rav Soloveitchik was once in Ridgewood, Queens, and mentioned to his talmidim that his father was buried somewhere in the area, implying that he did not frequent the kever. After all, throughout the ages, there are those who have frowned upon the practice of visiting kevarim (see Bach YD217). That might explain Yehoshua’s absence. Perhaps he too was disinclined to daven at kivrei tzadikim.

Let’s return to my miracle in Boston. How would Rav Soloveitchik have felt about prayers at his graveside? Some suggest that the story of his father’s kever indicates that the Rav would most certainly have disapproved of his own resting place becoming a shrine. The truth is, however, most of us aren’t on the level of Rav Soloveitchik. We could all do with a little help with getting our prayers to the right place. In fact, despite Yehoshua’s personal decision not to daven with Calev at the resting place of the forefathers, each year thousands of pilgrims flock to his own kever in Kifl Haris.

Which American rabbi made the greatest impact on centrist, frum Judaism? It is undoubtedly Rav Soloveitchik. Just think about the number of rabbis he taught and the number of students they taught. Today Modern Orthodoxy is booming in America, and its adherents are the leaders of the broader Jewish community, as well as every sphere of American life. In addition, our community stands at the forefront of Zionism in America today, working tirelessly to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship.

And so, as more and more members of the Modern Orthodox community adopt the practice of visiting kevarim, let’s not forget our gadol hador. I have personally davened at many kevarim, but Rav Soloveitchik’s intercession in the Beis Din Shel Maalah is what brought open miracles to our family.

Rabbi Dr. Daniel Friedman is the author of The Transformative Daf book series. Together with Batya, they are blessed with five beautiful daughters. Joey is entering her senior year at Ma’ayanot.

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