14 June 2020

The Sin of the Spies 2.0

22 Sivan 5780
Shavua Tov!

We are all rightfully concerned with the great need for Am Yisrael to "do teshuvah."  Everybody has his own idea about what that teshuvah entails, especially on the personal level, but we also have to be concerned with what we need to do teshuvah for on the national level.  There is no question that we still need to do teshuvah for continuing the sin of the spies.  And that's why it's too soon to leave this parashah.  Please consider the following quotes taken from the Stone Edition Chumash Commentary and take its words to heart.  Decide honestly where you fit into this paradigm.
The Spies' Report

When the spies came back after their extensive forty-day tour of the Land, they should have reported to Moses, who had sent them; instead they made their comments in a loud public declaration. In view of the account in Deuteronomy that the entire people demanded raucously of Moses that he send a spying expedition, it is understandable why the report was made in such a public manner: The people had demanded the mission and they felt entitled to hear the results.

On the surface, the spies did nothing wrong in describing what they had seen. They had been sent to make their own observations and they could not be faulted for reporting the truth as they saw it. Indeed, at this point in their report one sees nothing that should have caused their brethren to despair - yet the result was such a vociferous outcry against God and Moses, that Caleb had difficulty in having his defense of Moses accepted.

Ramban comments that the key word in their report that revealed them to be lacking in faith was the word "but" (ch. 13, v. 28).  In a purely factual report, there was no need for such a qualifier; they should have continued to state the facts. By using a word that implied a contradiction to the optimism of their first two sentences, they were, in effect, telling the nation that no matter how rich and blessed the Land was, it was beyond their reach. The inhabitants were too strong and their cities too impregnable. Ordinary human beings could not do battle with giants. Thus the spies were advising the nation not to even attempt an assault on Canaan. Then, compounding the frightening effect of their comments, they mentioned the dreaded Amalekites and the equally powerful nations that would never surrender their land easily. The very mention of Amalek was treacherous and was calculated to incite the people against Moses, because the land of Amalek was not even part of Eretz Yisrael, and the Amalekites would not have been a threat to a nation that was not crossing its borders.

We Cannot Ascend

Now, the spies said explicitly what they had only suggested before. Earlier, after the assembled people had gone back to their tents unsure whom to believe, the spies spread out among the people and spread malicious lies about the Land (v. 32), something they had not dared to do in the presence of Moses and Aaron, Caleb and Joshua. They claimed that the nature of the Land and its produce is such that it can be tolerated only by unusually huge and robust people; but ordinary people like the Israelites would not survive there (Ramban).

National Hysteria

The meraglim/spies had done their work well. The entire nation, even members of the Sanhedrin, the High Court, became convinced that the advance to Eretz Yisrael was doomed and that Moses had misled them by taking them out of Egypt. So convinced were they that they would be doomed if they ventured into Eretz Yisrael, that they wanted to replace Moses with a leader (ch. 14, v. 4) who would guide them back to the land of their enslavement. The Sages teach that this "leader" would have been an idol (Sanhedrin 107a), a telling indication that the sin of the spies involved a lack of faith in God.

The tragedy of their delusion had far-reaching consequences, for when the people wept that night, God declared, "They indulged in weeping without a cause; I will establish [this night] for them [as a time of] weeping throughout the generations." That night was Tisha b'Av [the Ninth of Av], the date when both Temples were destroyed and many other tragedies took place throughout Jewish history (Rashi to Psalms 106:27).

The Basis for the Spies' Error

The question remains how the spies - great men and leaders of the nation - could have sinned so grievously, especially when two of their number were telling the truth.

The Jewish people were about to enter a new type of existence. In the Wilderness they had been surrounded by miracles. Their food, their protection, the freshness of their clothing - everything had been miraculous. Upon their imminent entry into the Land, all of this would change. They would be required to live "natural" lives, to subsist through plowing, planting, commerce - and their new mission would be to live this way without ever forgetting that it is God's blessing, not the sweat of their brows, that assures success. Furthermore, the spies understood that Israel would have to conquer the Land through natural means. They erred in thinking that they would have to be strong enough to conquer and thrive in the Land without any help from God and concluded that they surely would be helpless against a race of giants, impregnable cities, and living conditions suited only to very hardy people.

The spies should have risen above these "logical" considerations and understood, as Caleb did, that if God wanted them to succeed, they would. It was because such doubts existed among the people that God chose such great men for the mission. If anyone, they would have the capacity to see the truth through the mists of mistaken logic. But the nation's lack of faith - as evidenced by their raucous insistence on sending the spies - had an effect on the spies themselves, resulting in the historic disaster (based on Maharal and Chiddushei HaRim).


  1. Just a simple person contemplating on this. The chet means to miss the mark, in wrong choosing. Instead of being positive, they chose to create a negative report on the Land. In this the inner essence of their soul was revealed. This had to die out. The courageous, positive, strong and faith-filled Calev and Yehoshua were worthy to enter the land and bring forth descendants blessed with prophecy, valor and fortitude. It was a test of faith, to weed out negative traits that would only weaken the Jewish people. Does this still stand today? Are we being tested? It is for each to demonstrate through words and action who is building up the Shechinah and who is still tearing her down.

  2. Beautifully said, Bluestar.

  3. It still bothers me when I think of how the leadership of the tribes would even dare to come out with 'how can we conquer the Land because they felt like like caterpillars compared to the giants'. They just went through the greatest miracles ever in human history, they lived through it and saw these miracles with their own eyes. They saw how G-D literally destroyed, Egypt, the then empire of the world, etc., etc. It all comes down to man's greatest flaw which is they wanted the easy way and that would be to live in the desert where they were constantly protected and had the manna from Heaven supplying their food. They could sit and learn Torah continuously without worry of parnasa. This was all a slap in the face (so to speak) of the Creator Who had just given them the most precious, beautiful and holy land in the world, and they threw it back in His face (so to speak). This was an unforgivable sin! We see much of this today with big and flourishing Jewish G-D fearing communities in the galut who find excuses for their not having even the desire to come up and settle the Land. The more truly Orthodox Jews filling up the Land would give them the upper hand to once and for all get rid of the erev rav (our worst enemies). But, r'l, this has always been one of the greatest flaws of human nature - getting too comfortable! We pray that all Jews wake up in time and realize that comfort is usually never reliable because it doesn't last! It's also so very bothersome why these same G=D fearing Jews don't have the 'desire & love' of the Land, to even move mountains to be able to live and breathe the holy air of E.Y. May every Jew wake up from their slumber, real soon!