Rabbi Yoni Kirsch
Rabbi Yoni KirschYair Yulis

About ten years ago a friend of mine and his wife wanted to buy an apartment in Jerusalem. They met with the real estate agent and went to see the place. Everything seemed to be going well. The price was a bit high, but the owner was willing to be somewhat flexible. My friend didn't come to an agreement at this point or commit to anything. He and his wife wanted to think about it a little more. A few days later, after consulting with a few knowledgeable people, they decided that since the apartment was a very old one, which was potentially problematic, they'd like to bring in an expert who works with construction so he could investigate the unit and it's building and gives an estimate for the costs of renovation.

However, the realtor was very upset with this idea of calling in a renovation specialist. The agent was adamantly against this and explained it in this way; the two parties were close to an agreement, and bringing in this expert could be a 'deal breaker'. But my friend was persistent and the expert came in and saw many defects. (which would've cost 200,000 shekel of renovation). After asking the owner to drop the price by 200,000 shekels, the potential deal was promptly called off.

So why was the agent so against bringing in that expert initially? It was obvious that there would be problems uncovered in the old unit. Despite the fair price and the charm of this apartment, a renovation specialist would surely bring up negatives.

This story reminds me of what happens in this week's Parsaha. The obvious question comes up; why send in the ten spies to see the land? Hashem promised the Nation of Israel a great land. Why not simply trust in His word? The question becomes even more relevant when we see the many signs that show that everyone involved knew that there would be potentially big-time trouble if spies were sent.

Did everyone know there would be trouble?

Moshe Rabbenu knew that the plan was fraught with problems--he changed Hoshea Bin Nun's name to Yehoshua (Bamidbar 13:16): "and Moshe called Hoshea the son of Nun, Yehoshua". Rashi explains why:

"He prayed on his behalf, “May God save you from the counsel of the spies.” [The name יְהוֹשֻׁעַ is a compounded form of יָהּ יוֹשִׁיעֲךָ, May God save you.]"

So according to this, Yehoshua, who accompanied the ten spies, knew about the problem.

Calev Ben Yefune also knew. He went to Hebron to pray that he not fail in his mission (Rashi 13:24):

Calev went there alone [hence the singular “he came”] to prostrate himself on the graves of the patriarchs [in prayer] that he not be enticed by his colleagues to be part of their evil counsel.

The Shechina also knew:

"Moses took counsel with the Shechinah . He [Hashem] said, “I told them that it is good, as it says, ‘I will bring you up from the affliction of Egypt…’ (Exod. 3:17). By their lives! Now I will give them the opportunity to err through the words of the spies, so that they will not inherit it.”

In addition to this, He even "helped" them by shortening their trip to only 40 days knowing they will be punished for one year per each day of the trip, or a total of 40 years. (Rashi 13:25):

"They returned from scouting the Land at the end of forty days: But does not the Land measure four hundred parasangs by four hundred parasangs [a parasang is equivalent to about three-and-a-half miles in length], and an average person’s daily traveling distance is ten parasangs? Thus, it takes forty days to walk from east to west, and they traversed its length and its breadth? However, since it was revealed before the Holy One, blessed is He, that He would sentence them with a year for every day, he shortened the way [so they covered ground more rapidly]"

So then, why send them or approve of it?

To answer this, we must see what the original plan was, that is, if the spies (Meraglim) were not to be sent:

The original plan

In Parshat Beha'alotcha we find that the original plan was to travel towards Eretz Yisrael immediately, and arrive within three quick days. Hashem was planning to speed up the whole journey. The Ark was three days ahead of Am Yisrael, setting up the "place of rest" before them (10:33):

"They traveled a distance of three days from the mountain of the Lord, and the Ark of the Lord's covenant traveled three days ahead of them to seek for them a place to settle".

This was supposed to be the final journey (Rashi 10:29):

"We are traveling to the place": Immediately, within three days, we will enter the Land. For on this first journey they traveled with the intention of entering the Land of Israel, but [because] they sinned at the episode of the complainers [they were punished and did not enter the Land until much later]."

Moshe Rabeinu even had to ask for the Ark to wait (Rashi 10:35):

"Because he had preceded them by a distance of three days travel, Moses says, stop and wait for us; do not move on any further".

Interestingly, the same phrase is used both for the Ark and for the spies - "Latur '' (to tour). This emphasizes the change that occurred between the original plan and what took place eventually.

Another significant difference was in the way they were to enter Eretz Yisrael safely. Rashi writes (Devarim 1:8), that if the spies did not sin, there would have been no need for weapons. This teaches us that the entire original plan was completely miraculous. The people were not really comprehending this. It was like giving a present to someone without asking them what their opinion is.

Human Involvement in the Process

Now we can understand the great change with the first pasuk of the parsha-- merely by the sending people ("Anashim '') to "Latur'' (tour) instead of the Ark, that alone is a remarkable change in the purpose of this undertaking. The people will now view it differently and be involved in the process. According to this view, we could say that perhaps the purpose of sending the spies was not a pure military mission (who sends ten chiefs of tribes together? Not in Fauda...) but rather an attempt to allow Am Yisrael to prepare for entering the land. A chance for them to be joyful and appreciate the great promise from Hashem, as he is giving them the opportunity to choose (see Iyunim parshot shavus, Rabbi Samet).

As an ideal, Hashem is interested in this, and that's why he sent (or approved sending them). The people are supposed to take part in the Geula, the redemption, and conquer the land. They are expected to "join" into the promise and bracha from Above. But indeed, there are two sides to this ideal. It is not assumed that the gift of Eretz Yisrael will be "shoved" on us. We do have a 'say' in it, although we are required to recognize the great blessing and potential. The lesson we need to learn is to be involved, have an opinion, and make adjustments that are necessary.

The story, sadly, developed far beyond this. We need to look back at what would happen without needing to dispatch the spies. The original plan could aid us in understanding what the ideal picture should look like and how it evolved into something negative. Hashem promises but we are allowed and obligated to become involved as human beings, as long as we don't cross the line.