Caleb (in hebrew, “Kalev”) was one of the most prominent and influential Jews to leave Egypt. A leader of the tribe of Judah, he was one of the 12 spies Moses sent to reconnoiter the Land of Israel, and later one of two sent by Joshua to scout out the city of Jericho. His is a tale of bravery, piety, and above all, loyalty.


Caleb, son of Yefuneh (or Chetzron, but more on that later), was born in the year 2408 from Creation1 (1353 BCE), 40 years before the Exodus from Egypt. He rose to prominence at a young age and was appointed chief of the noble tribe of Judah. He is mentioned in Tanach primarily regarding his exploits as a spy—once for Moses and once for Joshua. Truehearted and sincere, he remained loyal to G‑d and Moses when his fellow spies turned conspiratory, and for that he was eternally rewarded.

Spying for Moses

Shortly after the Giving of the Torah, the Jews stood poised to enter the Promised Land. Apprehensive of what lay in store, they entreated Moses to send spies ahead. Skeptical though he was, Moses nevertheless acquiesced and appointed 12 men, one from each tribe. From Judah, Caleb was chosen.

Although righteous and well-intended at the outset, the spies ultimately sinned and chose to deliver a negative report. Only two—Caleb and Joshua—remained loyal to their mission. According to the Midrash, Caleb actually went off on his own to visit maarat hamachpelah, the Cave of Machpelah, in Hebron. There, at the graves of our patriarchs and matriarchs, he prayed to G‑d for the strength to faithfully complete his mission without being ensnared in the spies’ plotting.2

The men scoured the Land for 40 days, collected samples of its produce, and returned to the Jewish camp. They gathered the people and began to speak, frightening them with tales of mighty cities, giants, and an unforgiving, inhospitable land “that eats its inhabitants.”3

The people grew hysterical, terrified that “the men would be murdered and the women and children taken as slaves.”4 But Caleb stood up and silenced their wailing,5 declaring:6

“We can surely go up and take possession of it, for we can indeed overcome it…. The land we passed through to scout is an exceedingly good land. If the L‑rd desires us, He will bring us to this land and give it to us, a land flowing with milk and honey. But you shall not rebel against the L‑rd, and you will not fear the people of that land for they are as our bread. Their protection is removed from them, and the L‑rd is with us; do not fear them.”7

Joshua joined him, and together they implored the Jews to believe that G‑d could, and would, deliver salvation as He had in the past. Unconvinced, and crazed with fear, the Jews began to pelt them with stones, until the Glory of G‑d revealed Itself to protect them.8

As a result, G‑d declared that those people would never enter Israel; they would wander the desert for the next 40 years until they all died out. G‑d punished the spies as well. Only Caleb and Joshua were spared, promised they would live to enter the Land. Caleb was also gifted the area surrounding the city of Hebron as an inheritance.9

Read: The Full Story of Moses’ Spies

Spying for Joshua

Under the leadership of Moses’ successor Joshua, at the conclusion of their 40 years in the desert, the Jews camped on the banks of the Jordan River. G‑d commanded10 Joshua to send two spies into Jericho, a strongly fortified and strategically placed city that was to be their first point of attack.11 According to tradition, Joshua chose his right-hand men Caleb and Pinchas (grandson of Aaron).12 Together they snuck into the city and made their way to an inn, where their true identities were discovered and their lives were in grave danger. Rahab, the inn’s owner, bravely saved their lives and helped them escape the city. She assured them that the people of Jericho were terrified of the Jews and their G‑d. She asked them to spare her family’s lives when they conquered the city. They promised they would, and made their way back to Joshua having successfully completed their mission. 13

His Names and His Family

Caleb is referred to in Scripture as the son of Yefuneh in some places,14 son of Chetzron in others,15 and Caleb the Kenizzite16 or son of Kenaz in others.17

The Talmud explains that his father’s name was Chetzron, but his mother remarried and his stepfather’s name was Kenaz. He is sometimes called the son of Yefuneh because the root of the Hebrew word “yefuneh” means to “turn away,” referring to his turning away from his fellow spies.18

Additionally, Caleb is referred to by many names throughout Tanach, such as Mered,19 Yesher, Shovav, Ardon,20 all which reflect his righteous loyalty and unwillingness to join the spies’ slandering.21

Caleb married the prophetess Miriam,22 sister of Moses and Aharon. He also married Batya,23 princess of Egypt who rescued Moses from the Nile and left Egypt with the Jews. He had children with both, and a son of his and Miriam’s was the famous Chur, also one of the leaders of the Jews in the desert.

The Hard Worker

Chassidic teachings explain the unique greatness of Caleb. Before the spies embarked on their mission, Moses, divining that the spies would not remain truehearted, wanted to give Joshua extra G‑dly energy to withstand their wicked counsel. He added the letter “yud”, which represents G‑d, to Joshua’s name, changing it from Hoshea, “Hosea” to Yehoshua, “Joshua”. 24 And Joshua did indeed remain faithful to Moses.

Read: Name Changes in the Bible

Caleb, on the other hand, had to battle his inner demons on his own. He was given no such inspiration or empowerment. In fact, he almost succumbed to the pressure, and it was only because he went to pray at the graves of his ancestors that he was strengthened. Whereas Joshua’s struggle was blown away by Moses, Caleb fought his own battle and overcame it. As a result, G‑d bestowed on him the special title “My servant.25 26

It’s easy to demonize the other 10 spies, but Chassidic teachings ascribe them lofty intentions. They did not give a bad report simply because they were wicked, but because they knew that were they to enter the land, the Jews would lose the distinctly spiritual lives they led in the desert. They would have to occupy themselves with the mundane and the physical, no longer able to pursue spiritual greatness as they had in the desert. As such, they conspired to convince the Jews to stay where they were. Caleb did not join them—not only because he disagreed with their reasoning, but because he knew one thing only: dedication, loyalty, and subservience to Moses. If Moses wanted them to report positively and enter the Land, then that is what he would do. Whether he liked or understood it was entirely irrelevant. Loyalty and subservience were his crowning attributes.27