Maybe Something Like This

SHELACH: NUMBERS 13:1 - 15:41
9 JUNE 2018 / 26 SIVAN 5778

Parsha Summary

In Shelach, Moses sends 12 spies to explore the Land of Israel. Ten of them convince the people that it will be too difficult to conquer the land, but Joshua and Caleb argue that anything is possible with God. God responds to the lack of confidence of the ten by punishing them with 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.


There had been something between Miriam and Batya from the moment their eyes settled on one another at the Nile. It wasn’t love, nothing like that. Yet. It was the pull of finding one’s complement, and knowing it. In Batya, Miriam saw a young woman so strong she would stand against a king who was her own father, so gentle she could lift a baby from a basket without waking him, and so just that she turned to her assigned servants with gestures of sincere gratitude and courtesy. As for Batya, she saw in Miriam a young woman of courage, devotion, and deep love who would bring every tool, every skill, every insight to save a life and to save her people. They weren’t so much like one another, but they recognized each other. “This one,” thought Miriam, “would never ask me to be smaller than I am.” “This one,” thought Batya, “would never define me by the status of my birth.” But there were, as they say, things to do. They saw one another on occasion during the time Jocheved was nursemaid to her own son, before he went to live in the palace. They saw one another across the way at festivals, each looking on with pride as Moses grew from toddler, to child, to man.

Meanwhile, Caleb, Aaron’s friend from the tribe of Judah, son of Jephunnah, lingered at their table. He turned to ask Miriam’s opinion on something they’d been discussing. Having no insecurities that Miriam could ever uncover, Caleb never told her what to think or how to do something, nor was any task too menial, and - enamored with her whole family - he was quick to offer to help her mother clean up after a meal or to tend animals with her father, Amram. Watching the stars, Miriam would circle her mind back through his words. They reminded her of the river, always going where it would go, steady and strong.

They married.

Laying in the dark of their tent one night, wrapped in Caleb’s arms, Miriam began to talk about what it was like for her when all the baby boys were drowning. Caleb breathed deeply and held her as words poured from her soul and tears from her heart. “I didn’t know,” she said. “When my mother put him in that basket, I didn’t know. I prayed. I hoped. But, I didn’t know - I couldn’t.” Miriam took in a deep and ragged sigh and felt Caleb’s soft lips press into her forehead. “You did, though,” he said. “You knew, without knowing. Right?” For a moment, Miriam held her breath. “What can you mean?” she asked. “You know what I mean.” “It’s not like it is for my brother,” she protested. “He gets words. I get . . . big ideas.” “But you knew?” “No, I  . . . I saw. I saw him safe in another woman’s arms.” “And then he was. What did you think of her when you saw her take him out of the basket?” “I didn’t at first. I thought of Hagar and Sarah - when it was just Ishmael.” “Why on earth would you think of them?” “Oh, I don’t know. Two women, both wanting to mother the same child with the same husband." Miriam raised herself up on her forearms and looked down at him. "Do you think it could ever work?” she asked. Caleb brushed a curl behind her ear and rested his hand on the bend between neck and shoulder.

“My love, anything is possible,” 

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Years later, when Miriam raised her timbrel over her head she looked out at the people holding their heads and their instruments high and her eyes stopped on a familiar, but older, face. In the breath between percussion and singing she smiled, and Batya nodded once, lifted her chin and her own timbrel, and smiled back.

She’d come! She had joined them! 

As they danced, Batya found her way to Miriam’s side . . . and stayed there. 

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“Our husband sleeps,” Batya whispered.
“Yes. Well-earned rest, I should say,” agreed Miriam.
“Do you think it is as the men said? Larger than any life we’ve ever seen? Milk and honey? Men like giants? Of course, I believe Caleb and Joshua, but . . . what do you see?”
Miriam sighed. “I see that it will never be easy, and I see that our people will live there . . . and not live there . . . and live there again.”

Batya bent over Caleb, noticed the long lashes curled on his cheek, and kissed the tip of his nose knowing that in his exhaustion it would never wake him. She rose and came over to the cushions where Miriam sat, taking her hand and bringing it to her lips.

“Will we live there? Can you see that?”

Miriam looked up into Batya’s eyes and let herself be lost in them for a moment. Lost in the years, and lost in the longing. Herself? Live there? That she did not see.
“You know what he always says,” she nodded toward Caleb. “Anything is possible.”

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Indeed. As I keep saying, in so many ways midrash is fan fiction. Sotah 11b and 12a has Caleb married to Miriam. By the Malbim (Rabbi Meir Leibush) Batya and Miriam were both wives of Caleb - and altogether he had four. Interpreting 1 Chronicles 4:18, the rabbis have Batya married to Caleb as well. Most of the textual aftermath in the Book of Joshua puzzles out Caleb, and not Miriam or Batya. Of course, Miriam dies during parshat Chukat, not to far from the parsha we are in now, and there is no record of the death of Pharaoh’s daughter who took Moses out of the Nile and raised. We are to understand from Joshua 14 and 21 that Caleb was given a mountain within the land of Judah and was blessed by Joshua. Was Batya with him there? We learn in Judges 1:13 that he promised his daughter Achsah in marriage to his nephew Othniel Ben Kenaz. Who was Achsah's mother? How did this family make a life together? Who were the lovers? Who were the parents? Who were their children? 

We don’t actually know.

We do know all three people - Miriam, Batya, and Caleb - were extraordinary.

And maybe . . . just maybe . . . it happened something like this.