The Sin of the Spies

Jun 7, 2015

וַיְדַבֵּר יְהֹוָה אֶל־מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר׃

Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying,

Numbers 13:1

וַיֹּאמְרוּ כָּל־הָעֵדָה לִרְגּוֹם אֹתָם בָּאֲבָנִים וּכְבוֹד יְהֹוָה נִרְאָה בְּאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד אֶל־כָּל־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל׃

As the whole community threatened to pelt them with stones, the Presence of Hashem appeared in the Tent of Meeting to all the Israelites.

Numbers 14:10

In our portion, God tells Moses to choose a representative from each tribe to scout out the land that He has chosen to give the people. Moses selects reliable men and instructs them to examine the country carefully, not only militarily (are the cities fortified? What are the people like?), but also agriculturally (is the land fertile? Bring back a sample of its fruit). The men take forty days to tour the country, bringing back the iconic cluster of grapes so large it requires two men to carry it.


The land is fertile, ten of the men report, but none of that matters because the people are too powerful to overcome. Only Caleb and Joshua insist that if God wills it, the Children of Israel will triumph over the current residents.


The people are distraught by the report, and unwilling to listen to Caleb and Joshua’s counterpoint. They cry out in despair, saying, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would we had died in this wilderness!” (14:2). They lambaste God for having taken them and their children out of Egypt only to die in the so-called Promised Land, and suggest choosing a new leader who will take them back.


As the Israel Bible points out, the sin of the spies is one of the most grievous episodes in the Bible, if not the worst sin mentioned. God forgives many sins throughout the Bible, but for accepting the slanderous report brought by the spies, the entire generation of the desert is punished. Jewish tradition tells us that the sin occurred on the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av, the same day that later saw the destruction of both the First and Second Temples. This is no coincidence. When the people cried for the “misfortune” of being led to the Land of Israel, God decreed, “You cried on the 9th of Av for no reason; this day will become a day for crying for all generations.” The linkage between the dates in history teaches us that all of Jewish history is the unfolding of God’s divine plan. We must therefore remember to put our unwavering faith in God, to correct the sin of the spies and their generation and thus usher in the Messianic Era.


Virtual Classroom Discussion

The Torah relates that prior to sending off the spies, Moses changes Joshua’s name from Hosea to Joshua. Why do you think he does this?

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