Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash
Yeshivat Har Etzion
This parasha series is dedicated
in memory of Michael Jotkowitz, z"l.
The Virtual Beit
Midrash wishes a warm mazal tov to Rabbi Moshe and Atara Taragin upon the brit
of their son Yosef Nechemia. May they and the entire Taragin/Fass family be
zocheh to raise him le-Torah, le-chuppa u-le-maasim tovim!
For I am
the Lord that Heals You (Shemot 15:26):
Stories and Heroic Measures
The sending of the spies seemed like
a good idea. At the beginning of Parashat
Shelach, God commands Moshe to:
for yourselves men, that they may spy out (ve-yaturu) the Land of Canaan… (13:2).
God then further
instructs Moshe to select one man per tribe, and that each of those chosen to
be sent must be a nasi, a ruler or chieftain, of his tribe (13:2). Apparently, spying out the chosen land is a
privilege reserved for the elite.
Ever the faithful servant, Moshe
carries out God's command to the letter.
Following the command verse (13:2), the Torah records its accomplishment
in advance. In a clear echo of the
language and content of the command, the Torah informs us that Moshe
"sent" (va-yishlach), and that the men he sent were all heads
of the Children of Israel (13:3). As if
to strengthen the theme of divine command and accomplishment, the Torah also
notes in this verse that Moshe performed the action of sending the spies
"in accord with God's command" (13:2).
This point is further emphasized by
the repeat appearance of the term "send," the root sh.l.ch. in the
continuation of the narrative. The term
has already appeared twice in the command verse (13:2), both at the opening and
closing of God's command to Moshe.
Likewise, as just pointed out, it has appeared for a third time in the
accomplishment verse (13:3). But as the
narrative unfolds, the term returns, echoing the command and its
After listing the names of the
chieftains chosen for the mission (13:4-14), the Torah caps off the list with a
summary verse informing us that these are the names of those "Moshe sent (shalach)
to spy out the land" (13:16).
Likewise, in the very next verse, the preface to Moshe's instructions to
the spies (13:17-20), the text states yet again that "Moshe sent them (va-yishlach
otam) to spy out the land.
This literary device, the fivefold repetition of the term
"send," creates a constant echo of the original command throughout
the narrative. It should have the effect
of forcing us to remember how things began, to remind us that everything that
happens, and is fated to happen, originates in God's command to
In point of fact, the other key term
in the parasha, "spy," functions in a similar fashion. This term also appears five times in the
early part of the spy narrative (13:1-24).
It appears for the first time in the opening verse of God's instructions
to Moshe (13:2). It appears again at the
end of the chieftain summation segment (13:4-16) and a third time at the
beginning of Moshe's instructions to the spies (13:17-20). Finally, it describes the opening of the
spies' actual mission (13:21), and in its fifth appearance, closes out the
segment describing their actual mission (13:21-24). Once again, the repetition serves to remind
us that everything that has happened, and is fated to happen, from the choosing
of the chieftains, through Moshe's instructing of the spies, through the actual
mission, stems from that original divine command, the divine imperative to
"Send…men…that they may spy out the Land of Canaan" (13:2).
As we should remember, the sending
of spies turned out not to be a particularly good idea. Or more precisely, it did not work out very
well. It ended in disaster, forty years
wandering in the desert and the death of an entire generation (14:21-22,
28-34). While this of course is a
consequence of human free will and results from the malicious report of the
spies and the complaints of the Children of Israel (13:31-14:4, 26-29), we may
well wonder as to the original purpose of sending spies. After all, as we have just noted, it is the
divine command and its accomplishment that the text chooses to emphasize
throughout the opening of the spies narrative.
What was God's original agenda? Why did God command Moshe to send those
men? To return to the terminology we opened with, what was the original
Puzzling out the original purpose of
the divinely ordained mission is but part of the problem. A cursory glance at Moshe's recap of the
incident of the spies in Sefer Devarim should make us realize that the
very notion of an "original" divine command for sending the spies is
fraught with difficulty. At Arvot Moav,
almost forty years later, Moshe recounts his instructions to the Children of
Israel upon reaching the Mountain of the Emori to "go and possess the
land" (Devarim 1:20-21). At
that point, Moshe teaches the following:
came near to me everyone of you and said, Let us send men before us and they
shall spy out (ve-yachperu) the land and bring us back word by what way
we must go up and into what cities shall we come. And this was good in my eyes. And I took twelve men of you, one for each
tribe. And they turned and went up… (1:22-24).
The omission is
striking. In Moshe's version of the
story there is no mention of the divine command, and certainly no emphasis of
the divine origin of the mission.
Rather, the spy mission stems from the initiative of the Children of
Israel themselves. On some plane, the
stories contradict each other. While the
version in Sefer Bemidbar portrays the sending of the spies as a product
of divine initiative, Sefer Devarim portrays the sending of spies
as a product of human initiative. If so,
speaking of a divine initiative and purpose becomes fraught with
difficulty. Before doing so, we must first
decide how we wish to deal with the conflicting texts.
But this of course is not the only
difference between the two texts. Even
without attempting to be comprehensive we can note certain other clear
differences between the opening of the spies story found in Bamidbar
13:1-24 and the recap found in Devarim 1:20-24. For example, in addition to the difference in
origin of the mission, we can also note a difference in context. While Devarim 1:20:21, prefaces the
story of the spies with Moshe's recounting of his command to "go and
possess the land" upon arriving at the mountain of the Emori, no such
context is mentioned in Bamidbar.
Rather, the Torah makes due with a pithy reference to the Wilderness of Paran
as the setting for the incident (13:3).
Furthermore, the personnel of the
mission varies between the two stories. Devarim
confers no particular distinction upon the mission's agents. They are simply men, neither chieftains nor
rulers, or princes (1:22-23). But as
mentioned above, Bamidbar repeatedly refers to the men chosen for the
mission as either having the status of nasi, ruler or chieftain, of
their respective tribes (13:2), or being "leaders of the Children of
Israel" (13:3). Moreover, the text
of Bamidbar even includes a list of the spies' names (13:4-16). As remarked above, in Bamidbar, spying
out the chosen land is a privilege reserved for the elite.
Finally, the stories vary in the
verbs used to describe the mission and in their instructions or mission
statements. While Devarim
utilizes the term ve-yachperu (1:22), based on the stem ch.p.r meaning
dig, uncover or search out, or the term va-yeraglu (1:24) based on the
stem r.g.l and meaning spy, to name the mission, Bamidbar utilizes a
completely different terminology. As
pointed out previously, the term tor, in various conjugations
constitutes one of the markers of Bamidbar 13:1-24. While translated previously as spying, it is
in fact a different term than either lachpor, or leragel, the
standard terms for spying. Similarly,
while Devarim describes the mission as designed to "bring back
word" regarding the "way to go up" and the "cities we will
encounter" (1:22), Bamidbar fails to describe the mission in this
fashion. In place, we find Moshe's
instructions to "see the land," the people and the cities
(13:18-20). The following chart should
help summarize these four differences.
Midbar Paran (13:3)
Har Emori – command to conquer
Origin of Idea
Divine Command (13:2)
Children of Israel
Leaders/Rulers of tribes (nesi'im)
Men – no mention of special
Terminology/Description of Mission
instructions, see land, people (13:2, 17-20)
Lachpor, leragel, bring
back word of way, cities
The standard strategy for dealing
with these kinds of problems in the Torah might be termed reconciliation. In this approach the conflicting accounts are
harmonized with each other by positing that in point of fact, both accounts are
correct. All the events recounted in
both accounts occurred. In what
constitutes a classic example of this type of approach, Rashi, the Ibn Ezra and
the Ramban (13:2) all claim that God's command comes in response to the
initiative of the Children of Israel.
After the people had informed Moshe of their desire for a spy mission,
then, and only then, did God command the sending of spies. There is in fact no contradiction. Both Sefer Bamidbar and Sefer
Devarim can be understood as presenting accurate and correct accounts.
While this claim is undoubtedly
necessary, it may leave us somewhat unsatisfied. Quite simply, the particular chronological
claim of the commentaries does not resolve all of the problems. While the "sequencing" approach may
work for the problem of the origin of the mission it says little regarding the
other issues raised, the differences in context, personnel and description
But of course this is not a serious
objection to the approach of reconciliation.
The remaining differences are even easier to harmonize away. They are at most differences in terminology
or omissions of particulars. They fail
to constitute full blown contradictions.
Slight variations in terminology are not necessarily significant, and
omission of details can always be explained on a case by case basis. For example, on the basis of comments made by
Rashi and the Ramban, we could claim that only before their sin can the spies
be referred to as leaders or chieftains.
It would simply be inappropriate to confer a title of distinction on the
spies after their sin. Consequently, Sefer
Bamidbar refers to them as chieftains, while Sefer Devarim omits the
While this kind of approach is
undoubtedly valid, and the commentaries chronological claim reconciling the
contradiction of who initiated the mission is undoubtedly necessary, in my
opinion the overall approach runs the risk of begging the question. In the final analysis, Sefer Bamidbar
omits the request of the people to send spies.
As argued above, it creates the deliberate impression that the idea
constitutes a divine initiative and builds a command-response model around this
divine command. Quite clearly, Parashat
Shelach is interested in emphasizing the centrality of the divine
command. Likewise, the text dedicates
fifteen verses to the status and names of the spies, terming them both
"chieftains" and "heads" of Israel. And of course, the terminology seems like a
key part of the picture. As pointed out
above, the Torah utilizes the term "latur" in quite a
technical fashion, interspersing it throughout the narrative (13:1-25) at five
strategic locations (1:2,16,17,21,25).
To put this all together, reconciliation risks losing sight of the
deliberate picture created by a particular version of the story. It often fails to account for the particular
mode of presentation, the set of deliberate choices made by the Torah in a
With this in mind, let us set aside
the question of contradiction between Bamidbar and Devarim. In its place let us turn our attention to the
particular context of the story of the spies in Bamidbar, its placement
at this particular point in space and time in Sefer Bemidbar.
Parashat Shelach and its
story of the spies opens with the Children of Israel located in the Wilderness
of Paran. The spies are sent "from
the Wilderness of Paran" (13:3), and as pointed out above, this
constitutes the sole setting of the events.
But in fact, the Wilderness of Paran has been mentioned previously. In the verses immediately preceding Parashat
Shelach, the tail-end of the narrative of Miryam's speaking against Moshe
and her affliction with tzara'at (12:1-16), the Torah informs us that
Miryam was isolated outside of the camp for seven days (12:15). Upon her return to the camp, the journey
resumed, and the people traveled from Chatzerot arriving in the Wilderness of
In deliberately naming the
Wilderness of Paran as the context of the spies story, the Torah forges a
crucial link between the story of the spies and the preceding story, the
Besides being juxtaposed in the text (12:1-13:24), the spies story
follows on the heels of the Miryam narrative geographically. It takes place in the next place the Children
of Israel encamp. But in addition, besides
being conjoined in text and space, the narratives are most probably also conjoined
in time. Without any reason to think
otherwise, it seems logical to posit that the events depicted occurred within a
short time-frame, with the sending of the spies occurring shortly after the
events of the preceding Miryam narrative.
However this is not the only linkage
created by the setting of the story in Midbar Paran. In fact, the Wilderness of Paran has cropped
up even earlier in Bamidbar.
Further back in Parashat Beha'alotekha, quite aways before
the Miryam narrative, the Torah detailed the first journey of the Children of
Israel in the wilderness (10:11-28). The
Torah states that "the Children of Israel journeyed out of the Wilderness
of Sinai" and that "the cloud rested in the Wilderness of Paran"
(10:12). But this seems strange. The Wilderness of Paran is a place the
Children of Israel will not arrive in until after the end of the Miryam
narrative (12:1-16), shortly before the sending of the spies (13:1-3). They will first pass through the complaints
of the mit'onanim (11:1-3), the laments of the asafsuf, the
people and Moshe (11:4-15), the aftermath of Moshe's and the people's laments
(11:16-35) and of course the speech of Miryam and Aharon regarding Moshe
(12:1-16). Along the way we will find
them in Taveira (11:3), Kivrot Ha-ta'ava and Chatzerot (11:34-35, 12:16). But if so, how can they already have arrived
in the Wilderness of Paran after their very first journey?
In response to this difficulty, the
Ibn Ezra and the Ramban (12:16) maintain that "the Wilderness of
Paran" is a general term covering a large area and the two contradictory
usages of "Midbar Paran" (10:12, 12:16) refer to different locales
within "Midbar Paran." Along
the way, the Children of Israel pass through various places, Taveira, Kivrot
Ha-ta'ava and Chatzerot, all located in the larger Midbar Paran.
Nevertheless, or perhaps
alternatively, on the literary plane the Torah seems to be following a
traditional kelal u-prat, heading and details, structure. First, (10:11-12) we are told the heading,
that the first journey was to "Midbar Paran." Everything that follows, (10:13-12:16), and
the eventual arrival in "Midbar Paran," are the details of that
"first journey." The
"first journey" of the Children of Israel is in fact comprised of all
of the events reported in the latter half of Parashat Beha'alotekha.
If so, the context of the story of
the spies consists of far more than just the textually, geographically and
chronologically conjoined Miryam narrative.
In naming Midbar Paran as the setting of the spies story, Parashat
Shelach teaches us that the context of the spies story consists of the
entire latter part of Parashat Beha'alotekha, the entire story of Midbar
Paran. With this in mind, let us turn
our attention to this larger context.
The narratives found in the latter
part of Parashat Beha'alotekha (11:1-12:16) are in fact linked by
far more than just textual continuity and geography. But first, we must set the details in
order. The flow of the narrative can be
charted as follows.
Complaint and punishment of mit'onanim
Lament of asafsuf and
people for meat and Egypt
Lament of Moshe and its
aftermath, elders and meat
Speech of Miryam and Aharon
against Moshe and its aftermath
Thinking about the
narrative in this fashion should help us discern a developmental link between
the various events. In what we termed
section one, things begin to go wrong with the complaint and punishment of the mit'onanim
(11:1-4). Whether one reads like the
Ramban, "And the people murmured of their suffering and pain," or
Rashi, "And the people sought to complain...," the sin involves some
sort of speech. Whether actual bitter
murmurings or just the desire to complain, the sin involves the inchoate, or
not fully verbalized level of speech.
But the second sin, the desire for meat, the rejection of the man,
and the lament for the delicacies of Egypt (11:4-10), also involves
speech. The Torah uses the term "va-yivkhu,"
meaning crying, to describe the complaint (11:4,10,13). The speech sin is here no longer pre-verbal,
but rather post-verbal. It is the crying
lament of a child, a rudimentary form of speech, a point Moshe emphasizes with
his analogy of birthing and nursing an infant (11:12).
What about sections three and four?
Undoubtedly, the sin of Miryam and Aharon, section four, constitutes the
conclusion of the progression. Their sin
is of course lashon hara, slanderous speech, "And Miryam and Aharon
spoke"(12:1). Here the
speech-sin/complaint is fully verbal. It
is full-fledged dibur, the speech of a prophet against another. But what about section three, the lament of
Moshe (11:15), can this too be viewed as part of a progression of
As mentioned in our analysis of Parashat
Beha'alotekha, the answer may quite possibly be yes. After all, from amidst his despair, Moshe
twice accuses God of having done him bad (11:11, 16). According to Rabbi Akiva (Rashi 11:22, Sifri),
Moshe explicitly questions God's ability to deliver on his promise to provide
meat for a multitude of 600,000 plus (11:22).
Rabbi Akiva goes so far as to claim that this sin is in fact more severe
than Moshe's statement of "Hear you rebels" upon hitting the rock at
Mei Meriva (20:10-11).
If so, Moshe's lament, section
three, certainly comprises part of the speech-sin/complaint progression. It is full blown speech, the despairing
accusation and questioning of God by his chief prophet. Yet it is still just despair, devoid of
direction, malice and malevolent intent.
These elements raise their ugly heads only in section four. To repeat, the speech of Miryam and Aharon is
lashon hara, the slanderous speech of one prophet against another.
speech-act level progression helps reveal another developmental element, the
element of place. The sin begins at the
"the edges of the encampment," the place where God's wrath burns
(11:1). It continues with the "asafsuf
asher be-kirbo," the outsiders amidst them (11:4), and progresses
quickly to "the entire nation organized as families crying at their
tents" (11:10). The contagion moves
to the camp itself. But it appears now
that the contagion of speech-sin/complaint spreads even further than from the
edge/outsiders to the encampment/individual families of Israel. In sections three and four, the disease
reaches the highest echelons. In
sections three and four it infects even the individual leaders of Israel, those
who camp near the Mishkan (3:38).
depicting the spread of the speech sin contagion, the corpus of the "First
Masa," the story of Midbar Paran immediately preceding the
narrative of the spies, also paints the picture of a profound crisis afflicting
the people on numerous levels. The
speech-sin/complaint development begins with the story of the mit'onanim
(11:1-4), defined earlier as a pre-verbal complaint, a kind of murmuring or
groaning about nothing in particular. In
fact, as the narrative progresses we realize that the Children of Israel are
afflicted by an even deeper spiritual malaise.
In a short matter of time, the vague sense of bad blossoms into a full
throated wail of lustful desire for meat and Egypt. But what begins as a kind of spiritual crisis
for the people ends as a full blown existential threat, a crisis of life and
death. Upon gathering the promised meat,
they die in droves with the desired meat "still between their teeth."
Where as God had promised to bring them to the Promised Land, he now strikes
them dead (11:33-34). While God had
promised to bring them to the Promised Land, they now die in the desert.
this additional, political dimension of the people's crisis should make us
realize that stages three and four of the Midbar Paran narrative, the crises of
Moshe, Aharon and Miryam, also possess spiritual, existential and political
dimensions. Moshe views his fate as
"evil," confronts and questions God, and by the end of his lament
requests his own death (11:11-16). Here
alone we can discern all three elements.
Moshe states that he doesn't have the ability, what we may think of as
spiritual resources, to continue, and casts the shadow of death upon
himself. But Moshe is the paramount
political leader, and his ability or inability to continue is also a political
Miryam and Aharon descend into the sin of lashon hara. They speak against God's prophet, After all,
God has spoken to them as well (12:2).
In response, Miryam is afflicted with tzara'at, a kind of shadow
of death. Upon seeing Miryam, Aharon
turns to Moshe and pleads with him to pray for her. He beseeches Moshe to not "let her be as
one dead" (12:12). Apparently, the
grisly appearance of tzara'at resembles the appearance of a still-born
baby. The partially consumed flesh is a
kind of death of the body, and some of the leadership also faces the shadow of
death. But once again all of this
possesses a political dimension.
Infighting, controversy over prophecy and the possible death of one of
the leaders of the people is another type of political crisis.
this all together, the story of Midbar Paran (11:1-12:16) is more than just the
story of the spread of the development and spread of speech-sin/complaint. It is also the story of a profound spiritual
and political crisis that to various degrees afflicts both the people and the
leadership. The journey is breaking
down, and the shadow of death hangs over all.
The story of Midbar Paran is in fact the development of a theme
developed in our analysis of Parashat Beha'alotekha. While Moshe had proclaimed to Chovav upon the
people's embarking into Midbar Paran that "we are traveling to the
place" (10:29), such was not to be.
While Moshe has spoken five times of the "good" (10:29, 32)
that was to be the fate of Israel
on their journey through Midbar Paran and at their destination, once again such
was not to be. Instead, the mit'onanim,
the people, can only see and speak "ra" (11:1). The process of speech-sin complaint begins to
develop, the contagion spreads, the spiritual and political crises deepen. The journey begins to break down, and the
shadow of death hovers over all.
return to the story of the spies. In the
shadow cast by the Midbar Paran narrative, the story of the spies takes on a
new dimension. It in fact represents but
another level in the development of speech-sin complaint. That development reaches its apex with the
slanderous speech, the dibat ha-aretz spoken by the spies. The claim that the land "consumes its
inhabitants" (13:32) is a deliberate and malevolent lie. But the spies are not just members of Israel, or even
individual leaders. They are the
corporate leadership of Israel,
comprised of a chieftain from each tribe, who speak, excepting Calev and
Yehoshua, with one voice. They inspire
the "entire congregation" (14:1), the entire community, to speak lashon
hara against God, to claim that God has brought them to death by the sword
the story of the spies constitutes the culmination of the crisis motif of the
Midbar Paran narrative. In a bizarre
statement, bordering on self-negation, the people claim that they would have
been better off already having died in the Egypt or the desert (14:2-3). Where as before they but yearned for the
delicacies of Egypt, in
response to the spies' slander, they now make active plans to return to Egypt. In a pointed reversal of the original
"good" promised of the journey and destination (10:29-32), the people
state that it would be "good" to return to Egypt (14:3). Of course, this culmination of the spiritual
and political crises of the people contains the death element as well. While the people might only muse of being
better off dead, God so promises explicitly.
They will all die in the desert (14:26-32).
this relationship between the Midbar Paran narrative (10:11-12:16) and the
ensuing story of the spies (13:1-14:45) forces us to confront a critical
question. The picture painted above,
with its references to development and culmination, as well as its motifs of
disease and contagion, could generate the impression that the fate of the
people and their eventual death in the desert was inevitable. The story of the spies seems to constitute
nothing more than the culmination of an unstoppable process. Once begun, the spread of speech-sin and the
collapse of the journey could not be halted.
Whether the spies had sinned or not, this generation would never have
entered the land. The contagion would
spread, the crisis would deepen and the journey would collapse. Perhaps the people's fate of death in the
desert was already determined from the very outset of their journey.
look at Moshe's instructions to the spies, one of the key features of the
account found in Sefer Bamidbar, should be of help in analyzing this
issue and allow us to return full circle to God's command to send spies found
at the beginning of Parashat Shelach.
sending the spies to "spy out" (latur) the Land of Canaan
(13:17), Moshe commands them the following.
see the land (ha-aretz), what it is, and the people who dwell in it, are
they strong or weak, few or many. And
what is the land (ha-aretz) they dwell in, is it good (tova) or
bad (ra'a), and what are the cities they dwell in...And what is the land
(ha-aretz), fat or lean... (13:17-20).
In the main body of
his relatively short instructions to the spies, Moshe mentions "the
land" (ha-aretz) three times.
Similarly, in the Torah's division into verses, the term "the
land" appears at the beginning of each of the three verses that comprise
the instructions. (13:18,19,20). In a further emphasis of the centrality of
"the land" in the passage, Moshe's instructions begin with the
requirement to "see the land" (13:18) and also end with the term and
topic of the land (13:20). Moreover, he
orders the spies not only to investigate the fertility of the land, but
"to be strong," and in a fourth mention of the term, to bring back a
sample "of the fruit of the land" (13:20).
But perhaps most significantly, the
term and concept of "the land" lies at the heart of the main body of
Moshe's instructions. Leaving out the
addendum to bring back fruit of the land allows us to discern a structure that
follows an alternating A-B-A-C-A pattern.
While Moshe, does instruct the spies to investigate the people, their
strength, numbers and the types of cities they inhabit in the second and fourth
stages of his instructions (13:17, 19), the stages connoted by 'B' and 'C,'
Moshe places "the land" at the fulcrum of his instructions, the
middle 'A' of the pattern. The exact
term is critical. Moshe instructs the
spies to investigate the land, and find out whether "it is good or
bad" (13:19). But does Moshe expect
the spies to report that the land is "bad"?
The answer should be self
evident. Moshe fully expects, or at the
very least hopes, that the spies will report that the land is good. God has explicitly told Moshe that the land
is good. In first speaking to Moshe at
the burning bush and informing Moshe of his intention to redeem the people, God
tells Moshe that he will bring them up from Egypt to "a good land" (Shemot
goodness of the land constitutes the linchpin of the dissenting opinion of
Calev and Yehoshua, the only spies who faithfully fulfill their mission. In response to the slander of the spies and
the people's planning to return to Egypt, Calev and Yehoshua implore
the people that "the land is very, very good" (14:7). It is not "good" for the people, as
they mistakenly maintain, to return to Egypt (14:3) but rather to continue
on to the "good land."
The point should be clear. Moshe's instructions carry an agenda, a
relatively explicit expectation. The
spies are meant to return from the land bearing the fruit of the land and
declaring how good the land that God has promised them really is.
This "good land" implicit
in Moshe's instructions and the good report expected from the spies bring us
back to the beginnings of the Midbar Paran narrative and the deterioration of
the journey. As emphasized previously,
in his invitation to Chovav upon the journey's commencing, Moshe uses the term
"tov" numerous times (10:29-32). The journey is good and the destination is
good, for God has spoken "tov" for Israel (10:29). But as already emphasized the people can only
see and speak "ra" (11:1). The complaints begin. The contagion spreads and becomes more
virulent. The crisis deepens and the
journey begins to collapse.
In this light, the command of the
spy mission, or perhaps more accurately, the scouting mission, should be seen
as an emergency intervention, an attempt to give the corporate leadership of Israel,
embodied in the twelve chieftains sent upon the mission, a chance to speak good
of the land, the journey and God's promise.
It represents an attempt by God to help the people to see and speak
good, to reverse the process begun with the sin of the mit'onanim, and
to put a halt to the spread and deepening of speech-sin complaint and its awful
consequences. In other words, the
mission constitutes an attempt to resolve the spiritual and political crisis of
the trek through Midbar Paran and to save the journey. By seeing and speaking good, the spies would
have resolved the political crisis of the failing journey, freed the people
from the grips of their spiritual malaise and brought the Children of Israel
out of the shadows of death cast in Midbar Paran.
Does the sin of the spies constitute
the inevitable conclusion of Midbar Paran narrative? Was the fate of the
generation that left Egypt
already sealed at the outset of their first journey from Sinai? Was the process of speech-sin complaint
God's command to send spies, his
requirement to choose chieftains and rulers of Israel, the definition of the
mission as latur, a scouting mission deliberately designed to bring back
a good report, and Moshe's instructions defining the mission, give us the
proper answer to these questions. The
answer is no. While sin may lead to sin
and evil sometimes seem to spread like disease, nothing is irreversible. God's very intent in commanding the mission
in the fashion reported in Sefer Bamidbar was to thwart the process and
save the journey.
In conclusion, let us briefly return
to the differences between the accounts of the spies story found in Sefer
Bamidbar and Sefer Devarim, the methodology of
"reconciliation" outlined earlier, and the hesitations regarding
"mode of presentation" raised earlier. To put this in more concrete terms, while we
may well be willing to claim that there are in fact no contradictions between
the accounts, we still need to explain the form of the story in a particular
location. In even more concrete terms,
while it may indeed be true that the Children of Israel requested a spy mission
and God commanded one, why does Sefer Bamidbar emphasize God's command
and its execution while omitting the request of the Children of Israel? For
that matter why does Sefer Devarim mention only the request of the
people and omit the divine command?
While the problem of Sefer
Devarim and an analysis of its version of the spies narrative will have to
wait for another occasion, our analysis has hopefully resolved the first of
these questions, that regarding Bamidbar.
Sefer Bamidbar presents the failure of the spies' mission and the
tragic events that occur as the final stage of a process begun in Midbar
Paran. But before this terminal stage,
we find God's attempt at intervention, a last ditch attempt at heroic measures,
a divinely ordained scouting mission by the people's very own leaders, designed
to resuscitate the good journey. To
return to the terminology we began with, this was the original "good
idea." The people's request, and
the description of personnel, mission definition and context presented in Sefer
Devarim are just not part of that story.
In sum, Sefer Bamidbar has its own unique message to convey, its
own internal reasons for telling the story as it does.
1) Although not mentioned in the shiur,
the shiur above owes much to the Ramban's comment to Bamidbar
13:2. In the latter part of his comment,
the Ramban describes the mission of Bamidbar as "a scouting mission
designed to bring back a good report and gladden the heart of the newly freed
slaves." Read the Ramban's entire
comment. Try to pinpoint two different
interpretations of Bamidbar 13:1-24 he presents. How does the shiur above expand on the
Ramban's ideas? Read Rashi 13:1 (second comment). How does Rashi deal with the problem raised
in the shiur above regarding the motivation of God's command? Contrast
this with the approach taken in the shiur. See Rashi 13:1 (first comment). Relate this comment to a central idea of the shiur.
2) See Shemot 3:5, 16-17. Now read 13:25-29 and 14:6-8. Where do the spies go wrong? Reread
13:17-19. Now see 13:22-29. What does the Torah tell us regarding the
spies time in the Land
of Canaan? In this
context see Rashi 13:23. See 13:33 and
Rashi 13:32. Try to figure out a common
theme that constitutes the underlying problem of the spies.
3) See 14:24. Now see 27:16-18. Reread 11:16-17. See Ibn Ezra 27:18. Try to list a few different sense of "ru'ach." Explain why it is a prerequisite for
leadership. See 13:20 and Yehoshua
1:10. Consider again the meaning of
"ru'ach" and the failure of the spies.