My wife and I met a couple we haven’t seen in more than fourteen years. We, all, were truly happy to see each other, but fourteen years is a huge gap, especially when both couples have been through so much. How do you connect after so many years? How can you quickly review twelve children, six weddings, celebrations, births, deaths, illnesses, and major life events? Children-in-law alone would have consumed hours of conversation.
Then, of course, we were all wary of what should not be discussed. Our joy was tempered by necessary sensitivity to the others’ experiences.
The best the four of us could so was, “You look great. You haven’t aged. Let’s get together. Where do you daven?”
Too bad, because Debbie and I were thrilled to see these friends and didn’t want them to think (not that we have ever been so accused) that we were being polite.
I have a solution: Secret Handshakes.
They say that Freemasons used to recognize each other by scratching each other’s palms while shaking hands. I suggest that we develop an entire system of secret handshakes to identify topics to be avoided, less than forthcoming answers, and the level of desire to reconnect.
The first handshake upon meeting should be measured by number of fingers used: A strong grip would mean, “I really am happy to see you.” Four fingers would convey, “I’m slightly hesitant.” A single finger touch would mean, “Let’s be polite for a few moments and quickly say goodbye for another fourteen years.”
The system will require that both parties hold hands through the entire conversation: “How are the kids?” can be answered with a sharp nail dug into the other’s palm while offering the proper “Wonderful!” A poke will indicate a topic to be avoided. “How are you feeling? I heard you were ill,” will evoke a bone-shattering squeeze. Political queries will require alternating between left and right hands.
We will have to develop an entire language of handshakes that will be required study upon becoming an adult, but, do not lose hope; it can be done!
I suspect that Caleb and Joshua developed a secret handshake to communicate while they were traveling with the other spies. We know that the ten bad guys had their hands full carrying produce of the Land back to the desert. Clearly, Caleb and Joshua wanted to keep their hands free for their secret handshake.
Moshe called his assistant to the side just before he began his mission, “Hosea, I’m adding a letter to your name so that God will protect you from the influence of the Meraglim (spies). Your new name is Joshua. Bye!”
The newly named Joshua looked carefully at his companions. He wanted to know if they were all dangerous, or, if at least one was well-intended. All twelve were considered great people. Caleb and Joshua were perceived as the least accomplished of the twelve. Joshua was looking for a hint from any of others for a partner.
His awesome master, Moshe, had chosen all twelve because of their greatness, and yet, he sensed that something wasn’t kosher. If Moshe could not tell, how could Joshua the student be able to determine whether he had a supportive partner?
“They ascended in the south and HE arrived at Hebron.” (Numbers 13:22) The change from plural to singular implies that only one of them went to Hebron. It was Caleb; he went there to pray at the tomb of the Patriarchs for the strength to resist the conspiracy of his comrades. (Rashi, based on Sotah 34b)
Caleb’s private trip was his secret handshake with Joshua, who was already protected by his new name. “Hey, Caleb! Where are you going?” “I gotta see the Cave of Machpelah,” he answered.
Caleb did not need to travel to Hebron to pray; he went in order to signal to Joshua that the two of them would now have to spy on the spies. At that moment, Caleb and Joshua became partners. They would draw strength from one another.
Caleb immediately understood the significance of Joshua’s new name; the other spies did not. He realized that Joshua would be able to sense the secret handshake, and that, the future leader of Israel, would learn how to pick up on the subtle signals people send. Joshua was waiting for God to save him from the influence of the Meraglim. Moshe could have prayed for his student, he didn’t need to change Hosea’s name. The master wanted the student to become an entirely new person. Joshua picked up on that signal as well, and thus knew that his salvation would not be passive. He was waiting for just that signal.
Even at the moment when, “Moses and Aaron fell on their faces,” “Joshua son of Nun, and Caleb son of Jephunneh, spoke to the entire assembly.” (Verses 5-7) The nation needed signal-senders and signal-readers to lead them into the Land.
Perhaps we do not need secret handshakes as much as enhanced awareness of signals sent and received. We can become signal-senders like Caleb, and signal-readers such as Joshua.
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