When to stand up


One of the most difficult problems in trying to live a moral life is knowing when to be cautious and consider what is happening carefully and when to stand up and make our voices heard, even if we are not in the majority, and even if our point of view seems unlikely to carry the day.  How do we recognize when the time is right to speak up?  This week’s Torah reading provides one answer, as Joshua and Caleb stand up in front of the community and contradict the other scouts by saying that the land they have seen is good and exhorting the Israelites to go up and enter it.  Why do they take this potentially risky and divisive step, which, as we see, does not end up being adopted, when everyone seems against them?  Joshua and Caleb, who have much experience standing back and letting others lead, suddenly find themselves in a situation in which the community is about to make a disastrously wrong decision, a choice that has the potential to destroy the people and make them abandon both the journey they have been on since Egypt and their mission of bringing more holiness into the world.  Seeing that they are at a crossroads, a turning point in the people’s history, Joshua and Caleb stand up and speak.  In so doing, they provide a model for us.  There is value in standing back and letting others lead, and in considering carefully what the right path should be.  But when we see that there is a terrible decision about to be made, a decision with grave consequences both for us and for the high values of Torah that we are here to bring into the world, that is the time to abandon our silence, to stand up, and to make our voices heard.  Like Joshua and Caleb, we know that we may not succeed, but just the attempt is valuable evidence to God and to the world that we have not given up on our mission.