Judaism: Who Sent the Spies? And why?
Rabbi Jesse HornThe writer teaches Talmud ("Brisker" approach) and Tanakh at the Hakotel...
One of the more well-know contradictions in the Torah, appears in our Parsha. Regarding who initiated the idea of sending the spies to Israel, the Torah paradoxically attributes the proposal to both Hashem and Bnei Yisrael (the children of Israel). In our Parsha (Bamidbar, Numbers
13:1-2) it seems clear that this command was Hashem’s idea, yet when addressing the people (Devorim 1:22) Moshe accuses Bnei Yisrael for this initiative.
Although many answers have been suggested, many reinterpret the section in Bamidbar (for example Rashi 13:1 who rereads “Send” as “I do not command you, if you would like to, send”), the one in Devorim or both. Perhaps we can suggest a something novel which takes both sections literally and at face value.
Let us begin our analysis with Moshe sending of the spies. Twice the Torah uses the exact same phrase “And Moshe sent them” (ibid 13:3, 13:17), triggering an obvious question; why present the story as if Moshe sent them twice? Presumably they did not leave twice. Moreover, they left in the next pasuk, “And they went up and spied the land” (ibid 13:18); so what do these initial pesukim of “And Moshe sent them” (ibid 13:3, 13:17) accomplish? Moreover, the phrases repeat themselves word for word. Clearly, something is intended, but what?
Being that Moshe did not send them twice, and the Torah does present two distinct “sendings,” one may suggest that Moshe sent the spies with two separate assignments. When describing the first mission, the Torah lists who went and what tribe they came from (ibid 13:4-16). These were important people (Rashi 13:3, Ibn Ezra 13:2 and others). The Torah further emphasizes their names symbolizing their importance by both opening and closing the section with “And these are the names” (ibid 13:4, 13:16). Yet, the clearest proof that the Torah is focusing only on who went, is that nothing else is mentioned; no mission, no goal, nothing specific to look for.
By contrast, the second section undoubtedly focuses on the spies’ assignment is to investigate the land. They are to examine the nations in Israel, determining their population and military strength (ibid 13:18), look at the land itself (ibid 13:19), and see its produce (ibid 13:20). While, in the first assignment, the Torah communicates who should go, in the second, it communicates why.
Another important difference that the Torah presents is that the first assignment was “According to the word of Hashem” (ibid 13:3), something that the second does not seem to be.
Perhaps we can suggest that the first assignment was Hashem’s design, as “According to the word of Hashem” (ibid 13:3) indicates. The second assignment was Bnei Yisrael’s. It becomes evident that Hashem and Bnei Yisrael had different reasons for asking Moshe to send spies. Hashem was interested in who went, disregarding the details; while by contrast, Bnei Yisrael wanted to hear about the details of the land.
Hashem, completely aware of Israel’s topography, geography and population, did not need spies to return with that information. Hashem wanted the leaders to lead; to return optimistically inspiring the people with confidence for success. On the other hand, Bnei Yisrael, lacking confidence and questioning Hashem’s description, wanted to double check and hear about the land itself.
Based on this analysis, we can offer a new answer to our original contradiction. When Moshe called Bnei Yisrael the originators of the spies, critiquing them for their lack of confidence, he was correct. They initiated the second assignment; it was completely their idea. Yet, equally correct is the beginning of our Parsha (ibid 13:1-2), where Hashem proposes sending of the spies.
The upshot is that the exact problem the spies were to fix, they had furthered. They honestly assessed the land, and accurately described it, but that only satisfies Bnei Yisrael’s request. It is not really why they were sent. Hashem wanted them to come back dreaming of how they could conquer Israel. Hashem wanted them looking to inspire the nation; to spread confidence, not doubt.
The spies’ lack of confidence is most apparent in their description of the giants. Let say “We were like grasshoppers in our eyes and in their eyes too! (ibid 13:33).” How the giants actually perceived the spies is not recorded due to irrelevance. What is important to note, is how the spies saw themselves, and therefore how they assumed the giants saw them.
In addition to the obvious hard work, belief, and hope are the secret to the Zionistic dream. Belief in ourselves and belief in Hashem is the formula for successfully inhibiting Israel. Then, and now, we must recognize our potential, strength and destiny and realize that faith in Hashem enables us to accomplish.