Originally Published June 2012

The episode of the spies is remembered as the primary tragedy of the bible and the source of Jewish suffering through the ages. Clearly, something went horribly wrong all those millennia ago in the desert. Their mistake and its consequences are a warning to all us. Listen to this shiur to find out what went wrong.


Sefer Bamidbar has been until now a book about transitions:

  • In tafkid: from dependency (childhood) to independence (maturity),
  • In conscience: the burden of choosing tov from ra,
  • And in the commitment to growth as the basis of all success in life.

This week’s parshah moves into new territory through it’s subject matter:

  • The meraglim (until chapter 15)
  • Particular mitzvos in line with our theme:
    • menachos and nesachim for each korban;
    • hafrashas challah;
    • aveiros bishegaggah
  • The wood gatherer
  • Tzitzis

Hirsch notes that all of these mitzvos related to previous story; given as a response. these mitzvos are tikkunim for the cheit of the meraglim. so what did the meraglim do and how do these mitzvos solve it?

Rashi and Ramban

Rashi1)Rashi to 13:2 “Shlach lecha: Hashem was not commanding them to send spies, but allowed them to send them if they thought it would be good. Moshe recalls this incedence in his parting speech to the nation: after the nation had asked him to send spies, he discussed it with Hashem. According to Rashi, the fact that the people had asked to send spies at all was the cheit itself. The spies themselves did no special cheit, their actions were only result of the initial error.

In Rashi’s view, at that point in history, the nation was still dependent on the supernatural existence which Hashem had provided for them in the desert. It was inappropriate under such care to seek out natural means.

Ramban2)Paragraph starting “Shlach lecha” sentence starting “Yeish kan lisholsees it differently. As Ramban sees Rashi, Moshe Rabbeinu must have also been part of the cheit, a possibility which Ramban rejects. The people had actually come with a benign request; it was simply prudent to send spies into the land they intended to conquer, as in any normal military campaign. The spies were merely hishtadlus (effort). Moshe consulted with Hashem about it in order to receive permission to execute the plan. The cheit was that the meraglim started to make their own calculations. Their own biasses and slants (though subtle – they were righteous) worked against them.

For Ramban, the nation had largely transitioned into a natural existence, and so the scouts were a normal and acceptable means to enter the land.

The Land of Israel represents the ultimate destination, the culmination of all individual and national aspirations; and ultimately, the sublimation of our goals and desires to Hashem’s will. The Jewish people are meant to struggle with that choice in perpetuity. Hashem’s support is guaranteed, as long as we maintain our poise and continue the struggle to define the right path. It’s Israel’s social contract.

Hishtadlus and Bitachon

There’s no simple formula for determining the amount of hishtadlus one must or can do. He must always struggle with it. Hashem purposely gives challenges on a continual basis. We must always be on the ball, adjusting our strategy to achieve the right balance in the moment. Whether you see it like Rashi or like Ramban doesn’t matter, the cheit of the meraglim was essentially the same in both views: they failed to properly balance bitachon and hishtadlus.

Korban, Shegagos, Shabbos and Tzitzis

The parshah turns to laws of menachos and nessachim. Korban is the devotion of the life force to God. Menachos with grain and oil, and nessachim with wine. Grain and oil symbolize physical means: daily bread our physical sustenance and rich oil our prosperity. The nessachim teach us that national prosperity is from God and challah that each family’s personal prosperity comes from Him as well.

Shegagos: The issue of Avodah Zorah is brought up here to warn us: should you ever think that the mitzvos are archaic, that we don’t need them any more because of our science and knowledge, our state and out army; or that we can have all this great, God-given success without mitzvos: think again. There will never be a time that we will not need to be subservient to HaKadosh Baruch Hu.

Chillul shabbos and tzitzis. Avodah zarah, shabbos and tzitzis are three mitzvos that are each compared to the whole Torah. Shabbos is the eidus that Hashem is the borei umanhig; Tzitzis are meant to remind us of all the mitzvos; and someone who commits avodah zorah is considered as if he transgressed the entire Torah. They form a triad in this parshah. The juxtaposition teaches us that the yessod of emunah and hishtadlus is connected to the foundation of all of Torah. These mitzvos remind us that the consequences of our choices are real and meaningful, and that we must make the right choice.

Photo Credit: Eliane Baumgartner Creative Commons License

References   [ + ]

1. Rashi to 13:2 “Shlach lecha
2. Paragraph starting “Shlach lecha” sentence starting “Yeish kan lishol