The Spies Have Not Left Us

Dr. Joseph Frager ,

Torah scroll (illustrative)
Torah scroll (illustrative)
Flash 90

Of all the failures of Man, the error of the Meraglim (Spies) ranks high on the list. Unfortunately, the Spies have not left us and live on in many forms. Parshat Shlach offers many insights and lessons for Modern Israel.

The bottom line is very simple; strive to be like Caleb Ben Yephuneh and Yehoshua Bin Nun and our future is secure. If our Leaders were like Caleb and Yehoshua then there would be no problems and it would not matter who was President of the United States or Secretary of State. Had all the Meraglim been aligned with Yehoshua and Caleb the Jews would have entered into Eretz Yisrael immediately and not wandered in the Desert for 39 years (the incident with the Spies took place on the 9th of Av in the second year since leaving Egypt-Taanit 29a). Unfortunately, the Spies caused the Nation to err. The Ramban delves deeply into the actual mistakes the Spies made.

Essentially they had a job to do and did not do it. Parshat Shlach opens up, "Hashem spoke to Moshe saying, "Send forth for yourself men and let them investigate the Land of Canaan that I give to the Children of Israel; one man each from his father's tribe shall you send every one a leader among them." The Ramban points out that Moshe himself must have seen the Land of Canaan as Prince of Egypt since "Hebron is only a seven day journey from Egypt".

Moshe knew fully well that the Land was a land "flowing with Milk and Honey". According to the Ramban he had seen the Land with his own eyes. The  only reason he sent distinguished men from each tribe was, "to gladden the people about the Land for it is "a splendor of all Lands, and then they would ascend to it with great enthusiasm." Moshe was trying to delegate responsibility. He was interested at this point in Nation Building. Otherwise he could have led Bnei Yisrael into Eretz Yisrael himself as he had taken them out of Egypt. The Ramban makes it clear that Moshe did not think the Spies would turn on him. He thought they would see exactly what he had seen when he visited the Land of Canaan and give a similar assessment.

The Ramban further elucidates that the mission of the Spies was a military one as well. Any Nation that was about to invade another had to gather intelligence in order to figure out the best way to achieve a quick and efficient victory. Should they invade via the South? Should they invade via the East? The answers the Spies gave were not constructive. They did not say for example that it would be best to invade via Jericho as Yehoshua did 39 years later. The Spies said, "Ephes" (everything pivots on this word-it is commonly translated as "however" but it means so much more-it has a very negative connotation), "the people that dwell in the Land are powerful, the cities are fortified and very large and we also saw the offspring of the Giant." They basically put the ca bash on an invasion.

Rabbi Yissocher Frand on Parshat Shlach (Tape#685-June 3, 2010) brings down the Baal HaAkeida who said that the sin of the Spies was that they added editorial comment to their assessment. Their use of the word "Ephes" deviated from the facts. They said in essence that all of this is for naught for the people of Canaan are too strong. I would go further and like the Ramban, the sin of the Spies was that not only did they editorialize but failed at making constructive statements. They did not offer a Plan A, a plan B or a Plan C. They failed to state what was obvious to Caleb and Yehoshua ,that invasion could be undertaken despite the fortifications. Rabbi Frand brings down the Shalo"h who rejects the notion that the sin of the Spies was their "editorial opinion". The Shalo"h says that Moshe Rabeinu indeed wanted not only a military opinion but wanted their opinion based upon Torah philosophy.

The appropriate report by the Spies would have sounded more like, "Yes, they are strong and yes they are mighty and maybe even by ways of nature we would not be successful against their armies, but we have the Master of the World on our side". Indeed, Caleb used this approach when contending with the Spies, "Caleb silenced the people toward Moshe and said, "We shall surely ascend and conquer it, for we can subdue it". (13:30) Moshe had hoped all of those he sent would be unanimous in using Caleb's approach. After all, these were distinguished Men who had a proven track record of being on the right side of History. Modern Day Israel is testimony of how not to be like the Meraglim. Modern Israel would not have not come into existence if one used the approach of the Spies. Every Israeli Leader knows fully well that Israel is dependent on miracles to survive.

Ben Gurion said it best, "In Israel in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles". The movement to secure, to grow, and expand Judea and Samaria follows the precepts set out by both Caleb and Yehoshua. The pessimistic, negative philosophy of the Spies in their assessment of Eretz Yisrael is outright rejected. We can, and we shall are more like it. Unfortunately, Modern Day Israel has its share of Spies. They did not learn the lesson of the story of the Meraglim. Thank G-d there are more like Caleb and Yehoshua today than Shammua Ben Zaccur or Shaphat Ben Hori and the rest of the Spies.

The Peace Now Movement, J Street, the New Israel Fund, Jewish Voice for Peace, and the architects of the Oslo Accords are still around fomenting trouble. They are outnumbered today but they are causing many problems. They would do well to review Parshat Shlach and finally understand the Sin of the Spies. Our People would have an easier time meeting the challenges ahead if they did. Shabbat Shalom.