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Sin of the ‘Spies’ a Misnomer

Moshe rather naively expected all twelve of them to understand that this was the "mother of all" pilot trips.

The spies

This week’s Parshat HaShavua, Torah Portion of the Week is Shlach Lecha Numbers 13,1-15,41.  If you read through very carefully, you won’t find the word מרגלים miraglim, spies any place in the text.  It is a Biblical word, because it appears in the Haftara, the passage from Joshua 2,1-24 read after the Torah.

Here’s from Bamidbar, Numbers:

Numbers Chapter 13 בְּמִדְבַּר

א  וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר. 1 And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying:
ב  שְׁלַח-לְךָ אֲנָשִׁים, וְיָתֻרוּ אֶת-אֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן, אֲשֶׁר-אֲנִי נֹתֵן, לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל:  אִישׁ אֶחָד אִישׁ אֶחָד לְמַטֵּה אֲבֹתָיו, תִּשְׁלָחוּ–כֹּל, נָשִׂיא בָהֶם. 2 ‘Send thou men, that they may spy out the land of Canaan, which I give unto the children of Israel; of every tribe of their fathers shall ye send a man, every one a prince among them.’

And here’s from Joshua:

Joshua Chapter 2 יְהוֹשֻׁעַ

א  וַיִּשְׁלַח יְהוֹשֻׁעַ-בִּן-נוּן מִן-הַשִּׁטִּים שְׁנַיִם-אֲנָשִׁים מְרַגְּלִים, חֶרֶשׁ לֵאמֹר, לְכוּ רְאוּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ, וְאֶת-יְרִיחוֹ; וַיֵּלְכוּ וַיָּבֹאוּ בֵּית-אִשָּׁה זוֹנָה, וּשְׁמָהּ רָחָב–וַיִּשְׁכְּבוּ-שָׁמָּה. 1 And Joshua the son of Nun sent out of Shittim two spies secretly, saying: ‘Go view the land, and Jericho.’ And they went, and came into the house of a harlot whose name was Rahab, and lay there.
ב  וַיֵּאָמַר, לְמֶלֶךְ יְרִיחוֹ לֵאמֹר:  הִנֵּה אֲנָשִׁים בָּאוּ הֵנָּה הַלַּיְלָה, מִבְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל–לַחְפֹּר אֶת-הָאָרֶץ. 2 And it was told the king of Jericho, saying: ‘Behold, there came men in hither to-night of the children of Israel to search out the land.’

They are not the same words.  I prefer looking at the Hebrew before the English. אֲנָשִׁים, וְיָתֻרוּ אֶת-אֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן  anashim-people viyaturu-?  Later in the verse we are told that these people are tribal heads, important people.  They didn’t hide.  They wandered the Land in public view.

One of the men who was sent by Moshe was Joshua, who took over as leader after Moshe’s death.  He gave different orders and to שְׁנַיִם-אֲנָשִׁים מְרַגְּלִים  anashim meraglim, spies.  Another difference was that it was in secret.

I believe that Moshe had sent his tribal heads to stake out  the Land.  Moshe rather naively expected all twelve of them to understand that this was the “mother of all” pilot trips.  They were supposed to claim their areas and come back giving the greatest, most convincing PR ever to excite and enthuse the tribes to hurry and settle the Land ASAP.

Only Caleb and Joshua understood their task.  For that reason, Caleb’s tribe Judah was given Hebron, which he had claimed during the mission.

The lesson we Jews today must learn from this is that our job isn’t to decide the pros and cons of living in Israel.  We must just pick the place in the Land of Israel where we will live and make it all work out, with G-d’s help.

Have a wonderful week.

Visit Shiloh Musings.

About the Author: Batya Medad blogs at Shiloh Musings.


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