The sweaty odor of nervous anticipation permeated the predawn darkness in Moses tent. Twelve chosen men stood before him, twelve tribal leaders who were to reconnoiter the land of Gods promise. Fear and duty skirmished across their facesleaving their traces in edgy glances, flared nostrils, and frequent swallows.
Unnoticed, I crouched in the corner, watching them. I saw my father, young and strong, take his place among the men.
A deaf-mute would have sensed the tension. The long, dry march of our people was to end. Our goal was within reach. We were at the portal of Canaan.
Doubtless the anxiety of the men had something to do with being called into the presence of Moses. They knew unpleasant things sometimes happened to those who attracted the leaders disfavor; even members of his own family were not immune.
Of the twelve, only Joshua the Ephramite seemed steady. He who had been at Moses right hand, he who had served him as a son, seemed eager to be about the business of conquest. The steel in his eyes glinted as he leaned forward to listen. So intent was he, he almost pulled the leaders thoughts from his mind before they were spoken.
Moses gave the twelve their dangerous commission: to survey the land, to observe the disposition of its people, to explore its borders, and to bring back a sampling of its fruits. Then he placed his hands on the head of each man, blessing and conferring the protection of the Almighty upon the mission. When Moses reached Joshua, the older man embraced the younger for a moment, two moments. Joshua turned, and with the others slipped out into the darkness to begin the ascent into the Negev.
In the forty days my heroes were away, I died a thousand deaths. I imagined every conceivable mishap, and invented dozens of others. Each day, as my mother arose, I pestered her with questions: What tidings of the Twelve? Have they sent back word? Do you suppose they have been discovered? Will the tribes of Canaan descend upon us? Forty interminable days she shook her head at my impetuous queries. Forty eternities I tortured myself with fancies more vivid than reality.
At last the day came. A shout raced through the camp on a hundred tongues: They return! The Twelve return! From the tabernacle outward to the most distant tents, word of our spies return came rippling across Kadesh like a drum roll. The news pulled the wind out of my breast, thrust my heart into my throat as I rushed toward the meeting place by Moses dwelling. I was surrounded by scores of others who were running, their feet as irresistibly drawn as mine.
Thinking back, I recall the half-worried, half-joyful countenances of the people as they went to hear word of the Promised Land. Yet, in the end, worry betrayed joy.
The Twelve were already assembled along the rocky height behind the leaders tent. Moses rapidly picked his way up the steep path. The people crowded against the very edge of the place where the heroes stood, and more came in behind, until there was a huge press from the throng. Agility was required to avoid being trampled in the confusion. The place abutted a rocky cliff, forming a natural theater that served to amplify the voice of any who addressed the multitude.
As I strained forward to the front, I expected to see my fathers arms raised in victory with the others. But the twelve men were arguing among themselves. Joshua and one otherCaleb of Judahappeared to be withstanding a vigorous scolding administered by the other ten, my father among them. I saw Fathers face grow red as he and the others flung their arms in wide, angry gestures.
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