What was the sin of the spies? It cannot be that it was the very fact they were sent. On the contrary, we find the use of spies against the enemy camp in many places. For example, we read that “Moshe sent out men to spy on Ya’azer” (Bamidbar 21:32). Likewise, Yehoshua sent out two spies to see the Land and Jericho. And we find that God sent Gideon to spy on the Midianite camp to hear what the Midianites were saying so as to be in a stronger position to attack them (Shoftim 7:11).
Therefore, Ramban (Bamidbar 13:2) does not view the actual sending of the spies as the sin. He writes, “This is reasonable counsel for all occupying forces. The Torah does not advise relying on miracles in all one does. Rather, it commands that soldiers, once dispatched, cautiously wait in ambush for the right moment to attack.”
Ramban further refines the question. The spies spoke the truth. They had been tasked to see if the soil was rich or weak and they answered that it was rich, and that it was a land flowing with milk and honey. To the question of whether the land had trees or not, they responded by displaying its fruit, as Moshe had commanded they do.
What then was the sin of the spies? Ramban says the spies had been commanded to provide information about the land; their sin was that they added their own opinion that the conquest of the land would be impossible to carry out. The spies conducted themselves like some of our present-day media personalities whose job it is to provide the public with facts and information but who instead weave in their own commentary, assessments and opinions. This was the sin of the spies.
The Book of Psalms long ago revealed to us that lack of faith and an absence of love of the Land of Israel were the root causes of the sin of the spies: “They despised the precious land, they did not believe His word” (Psalm 106:24).
We can extrapolate from this that the answer to the confusion and doubt rampant in our own generation regarding Eretz Yisrael is increased education vis-a-vis love of the land, the people, and the Torah of Israel.
That education is to be found at the end of the parshah of the spies, which deals with the mitzvah of tzizit. The Talmud in Menachot states that the blue thread of tzitzit reminds us to look up at the blue heavens and to admire the incredible, vast expanse of endless space leading to its source: the Ein Sof, God.
The Torah concludes the parshah of the spies with “and you shall see Him,” meaning to see God in everything in nature (Bamidbar 15:40). Thus the gematria of the word “nature” in Hebrew, hateva, equals Elokim (God). We must teach ourselves to view events as they really are, as the Torah views them, rather than be deceived by superficial appearances.
This idea applies especially to Eretz Yisrael, which overflows with beauty and sanctity. Some of its beautiful qualities are revealed while others are hidden beneath the surface. In a similar sense, the righteous one among the spies, Kalev ben Yefuneh, saw only the good in Eretz Yisrael, unlike his colleagues, who were deceived by the superficial problems they saw. His name comes from the same root as the word kelev, dog, and we all know a dog is always digging beneath the surface to find the buried treasure.
Like Kalev, we must never cease plumbing the depths to discover the hidden treasure and sanctity concealed in Eretz Yisrael.Rabbi Ephraim S. Sprecher
About the Author: Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher is dean of students at the Diaspora Yeshiva in Jerusalem.
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