In this sad Parsha we learn about the sin of the spies. The whole episode seems to be very unclear. Why did the ten spies bring a bad report? What exactly was the lack of belief that caused most of the nation to not want to enter the Land of Israel? Can it really be that the people who witnessed the splitting of the sea would think that Hashem is incapable of saving them from the nations of Canaan dwelling in the Holy Land?




The sin of the spies might be one of the saddest episodes in our history[1]. This sin was never fully forgiven. The day after which the nation accepted the bad report, crying the entire night, became the saddest day in our calendar: the Ninth of Av. It is very important to understand the exact nature of the sin of the spies in order not to repeat it. It is certainly hard to imagine that their sin was simple lack of trust and belief. As usual in regards to the sins of the ancients[2], there had to be some element of “Leshem Shamaim” – “for the sake of heaven”[3] in them.


To gain a better understanding of what happened, we need to realize that Hashem’s Hanhaga (rule over the universe) also operates according to certain principles. In a way, there is a structure even for the way miracles are performed. Just like there physical laws, though not binding at all to the Creator Himself, but rather these are the rules that He Himself choose to operate through, so too there are spiritual laws. Even though Hashem could have ruled in a manner of no pattern, He willed instead to regulate the world according to a set of laws that He Himself created. One of the reasons for this decision is for us to be able to have at least some grasp to the spiritual Hanhaga. If this would not be done, then Hashem’s Will would be totally beyond our understanding. In truth, the Infinite Will of the Creator is indeed beyond our grasp, but He allows us to talk about finite parts of His Will which makes the connection possible between us, finite creatures and Himself – the Infinite Being[4]. Indeed the entire discussion in Kabala regarding Sefiros, Partzufim and Olamos has to do with learning about parts of Hashem’s Will[5]. The famous concept of “Tzimztum” – (constriction) has to do with Hashem “limiting” his infinite abilities and using only finite Will Power to create the universe in the way it was created.


Using these principles we can begin to understand the mistake of the ten spies as well. Certainly the spies had no doubt about what Hashem can do. However the question was not what Hashem is able to do, but rather what He will actually do according to the spiritual laws of Hanhaga. Is our nation on the correct spiritual level to be able to wage battle on the spiritual front with the Canaanite nations rooted very deeply in spiritual worlds[6]? Are there righteous enough people to protect the inhabitants of Canaan through their merits[7]? Do we have enough spiritual power to deserve the so needed Divine protection[8]? Is the spiritual root of the generation of the wilderness appropriate to live in the Land of Israel altogether or is the wilderness itself a far more fitting place for them according to their own spiritual makeup[9]? In the wilderness they were able to learn the Torah undisturbed, but in the Land of Israel they would have to work the land[10]. These were just some of the questions the spies asked themselves as they were going on their journey.


What these highly spiritually sensitive people saw in the Holy Land strengthened their resolve that under normal circumstances our nation will not be successful. The nations of the land appeared very strong not only physically but also spiritually. Rooted very high in the spiritual worlds they seemed to be even more powerful than the Egyptians. On the other hand, our nation had become much weaker after the episode of the golden calf. It seemed that the rectification needed to be able to overpower the 31 Canaanite kings is beyond the ability of the Jewish people.


Indeed the spies were making a horrible mistake. Had we only entered the Land of Israel, the spiritual root of Hashem’s Hanhaga for our nation would have changed and we would be successful. In this case, we needed to just rely on Hashem, the entire rectification would be happening not through arousal from below, but through Hashem’s acting from Above. The spies however were biased and did not see the truth. The reason for their bias was the fact that realized that their leadership and ability to be at the head of our nation stemmed from their spiritual root that had to do with the Hanhaga in the wilderness. As soon as we would enter the Holy Land and the Hanhaga would change, there would be more appropriate leaders of our people[11]. In this respect the mistake of the spies was very similar to the mistake of Yeroveam[12]. Though they seemed to be acting Leshem Shamaim[13] in truth they were deceiving themselves. Their decision was not for the benefit of the people, but rather to keep themselves in positions of power[14].


As we all know the ten spies were punished with the attribute of strict justice. As we mentioned in Parshas Ki Sisa, Hashem’s judgment of great people is stricter, according to their level[15]. As for our nation, it suffered catastrophic consequences. Even Moshe was not able to secure for us a full forgiveness, but only softened the Divine decree. However our people accepted their punishment righteously. For the next 39 years they would voluntarily dig their own graves every Ninth of Av and went to sleep in them. The next morning some would not wake up.


Did our nation learn its’ lesson? To answer this question we have to realize that for everything good there is an opposite force as well. This force, the yetzer hara often uses the most logical arguments and even presents a sin as a mitzvah. At times, even the episode of this Parsha is used by it. When we study what our sages have to say about the mitzvah of living in the Land of Israel, we certainly get quite impressed. This is the Holiest of lands; all the mitzvos performed there are on a higher level than everywhere else[16]. On the other hand, living there requires being extra careful to lead a righteous life[17]. After all, the sins done in Eretz Yisroel are also punished much more since this is the Divine Palace[18].


Our sages teach us that there is a time when it’s a mitzvah for the Jewish people as a whole to reside in the Land of Israel. On the other hand, there is a time of Golus, when we are dispersed all over the world, until we return to Torah observance with all our heart and soul[19]. Until this happens, we will not be able and we are not supposed to try to gather collectively in the Holy Land. The Talmud mentions[20] that Rabbi Yehudah especially loved the Land of Israel yet he himself did not allow anybody to immigrate there since after the destruction of the Temple those who are outside the Holy Land must remain there[21]. However the Halacha does not follow his opinion[22]. An individual even in our day is not only permitted but also encouraged to immigrate to the Land of Israel if he is righteous and is planning to lead a lifestyle full of Torah and mitzvos[23]. This only applies if he can find living accommodations in a religious neighborhood where his children will be surrounded by righteousness and will not be lead astray[24]. All of this applies only to an individual, but the majority of the Jewish people will remain in exile until our nation fully returns to Hashem.


In the past century, the Zionist movement tried to get all the Jewish people to immigrate to Israel. Besides the danger involved in such an endeavor[25] it ultimately caused a decline in Torah observance both in the Land of Israel and outside of it. Many descendants of the people who fell for the Zionist persuasions are not religious today[26]. The Zionists used to compare our sages who opposed their movement to the ten spies. In truth however, the Zionists themselves should be compared to those people of the First Temple who did not listen to the prophets to give in to the king of Babel and go to exile and to the people of the Second Temple who rebelled against the Romans and brought destruction to our nation. As for our sages, they knew how to distinguish between the time when it’s a mitzvah to fight for independence and the time when it’s a mitzvah to give in and pursue peace[27]. And we will wait every day for the final redemption, and the greatest battle we can wage to achieve it is the battle to win more and more of our brethren to the cause of Torah!



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[1] Obviously this sin had the greatest effect on our history in the desert. Moreover, according to Ramban (16:1) the rebellion of Korach was also a direct result of the punishment after the sin of the spies.


[2] In particular, the spies were all important people chosen by Moshe himself.


[3] See our words to Parshas Ki Sisa regarding the sin of Yeroveam.


[4] See detailed discussion in Ramchal, Maamar Havikuach, 42-50; Klach Pischey Chochma, 1; Likutim printed after the GR”A’s peirush to Sifra Detzniusa, starting with words: Sod Hatzimztum.


[5] This is compared by Ramchal (Maam Hachochoma starting with words: “Inyan Hasfiros”)  to a person that tries to appear and act a certain way in a group of others whose intellectual level is lower than his. He creates a type of image of himself through which he operates in the manner they can understand. All of us do this at times, when we talk to little children. Similarly, Hashem Who is Infinite, creates various “masks” through which we can gain some connection to Him. Thus the prophets all saw images of Hashem, even though in their prophesies they also received an understanding that this image is not Hashem Himself, for He has no image. Similarly our nation at Mount Sinai saw an image of Hashem as an old man full of mercy (see Rashi, Shemos 20:2 in the name of Mechilta).


[6] See Rav Yitzchak Eizek Chaver in Afikey Yam, Sotah 35a.


[7] See Talmud, Bava Basra 15a.


[8] See Ramchal on this Parsha.


[9] See Rav Menachem Azaria In Yonas Ilem, 88 and Divrey Yoel on this Parsha.


[10] See Divrey Yoel and Sfas Emes on this Parsha.


[11] See Zohar 3:158a, Shla Hakodesh on this Parsha.


[12] See the GR”A in Yahel Ohr 3:158a.


[13] The day they died became a voluntary fast day (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 580:2; Kaf Hachaim 580:14.)


[14] See Talmud, Menachos 109b; Avos Derabbi Noson 10:3 that even meek and humble people, once they get in position of power find it very difficult to step away from it when time comes.


[15] See the Talmud, Bava Metzia 33b.


[16] See Sifri, Ree 28, Vayoel Moshe 2:36. See also Sifri Ekev, 7; Sifra Behar, 5; Sifri Haazinu, 28.


[17] See the GR”A’s letter to his wife during his journey to the Holy Land.


[18] See Rav Yisroel from Shklov (a student of Vilna Gaon) in Peas Hashulchan 1:15 who brings many sources for this. Among others he quotes the Maharam, that the land of Israel is the land “that eats its’ inhabitants!” This is surprising statement to use; it seems to be the claim of the spies! Rav Yisroel answers that indeed the spies spoke the truth. For those people who are not on the correct spiritual level, the land of Israel is not good to live in, for it cannot withstand sinners, see also Avney Nezer, Yore Deah 454; Vayoel Moshe 2:37-41.


[19] See Devarim 30:1-14.


[20] Brochos 43a.


[21] Kesubos 110b.


[22] See Vayoel Moshe 1:9.


[23] See Teshuvos Vahanhagos 4:327.


[24] See Vayoel Moshe 2:33. See also Questions and Answers Meil Tzedaka, 26 that if one makes a living outside the Land of Israel, but in the Holy Land will have to live on donations, should rather stay where he is.


[25] See Talmud, Kesubos 111a, letters of Rabbeinu Weismandel printed in “Toras Chemed”, 65th letter.


[26] On the other hand those people who came to the Holy Land before the Zionist movement and those who came later but not because of Zionism generally comprise thriving religious communities.


[27] As we see, right after the sin of the ten spies there were many people who were hoping to “compensate” by conquering the land, and they were not successful. Indeed the mitzvah of waging war to get the Land of Israel applies only at certain times, and is not applicable at the time of exile (see Talmud, Kesubos 111a).