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Browse Torah Articles: Sefer Bemidbar: Parashat Shelah: Spies

Contributed by: Rayna Cohen

Hashem gave Moshe permission to send for himself spies to tour the land of Israel. These spies were distinguished men and leaders from each tribe. Each tribes representatives name was mentioned in the perasha. From the tribe of Ephraim, Hosheas name was changed to Yehoshua. Moshe explained the details for the purpose of this conquest. What are the spies going to look for in the land? Are the people strong or weak few or numerous? How are the land and the cities as well as its trees? Strengthen yourself and take from the fruit of the land.(13:20)The spies began their mission. They saw the 4 giants, the fortified cities and also cut a cluster of grapes and carried it on a pole. After 40 days, the spies returned and came in front of Moshe, Aharon and the entire assemblage of the Jewish people. The report given by the spies started on a positive note. They said the land indeed flowed with milk and honey. They also proceeded to show the fruit of the land. BUT, they continued, the people who live there are powerful, the cities are large and Amaleq lives there among the other nations. Calev, from the tribe of Yehudah, went to the grave of the Saddiquim in Hebron to pray for help to succeed in this mission. It was at this point in the report of the spies, that Calev strengthened himself and defended the land and the potential of Hashems people to conquer it. We shall surely ascend and conquer it, for we shall surely do it.(13:30) Calevs beautiful point meant for Bene Yisrael to take a bold step to believe in G-d in that He will surely help to conquer Israel. The remaining ten spies then persisted in their negative outlook portraying fear to the people. All the children of Israel wept and cried that night. Yehoshua also made an attempt to help the people be strong and understand the gravity of this reaction. If Hashem desires us, He will bring us to this land and give it to usBut do not rebel against Hashem! And you will not fear the people of the land, for they are our bread.(14:8, 9) The entire assemblage of people refused to listen to their leaders words of wisdom. Hashem said to Moshe, To what point will this people anger Me, and how long will they not have faith in me (14:11) Hashem did not want to continue dealing with these tests of faith from Bene Yisrael. He was ready to begin a new nation from Moshe. In his humility, Moshe puts together a three point prayer that saved Bene Yisrael from extinction. However, there were still consequences left to be carried out. The 10 spies were punished by death through a plague from Hashem. The entire generation would now be wanderers for 40 years; one year for each day the spies scouted the land. There was also no protection for those who changed their mind and were prepared to enter the land; they died in their attempt. There WAS hope given to Bene Yisrael to enter the land of Israel. This hope was conveyed through the messages of the missvot of the qorbanot which would be brought in the land. Another poignant message addressed the fear to the nations of the land as Yehoshua stated, they are our bread, with the missvah of hafrashat hallah being in this perasha. In order to recognize our bread, our parnassa, our success is from Haqadosh Barukh Hu; the missvah to separate a piece of bread from our dough is placed appropriately here. Another beautiful way to close this perasha as well as to learn the lesson of the sin of the spies is in the last passage. It is the commandment to wear Sisit. By seeing the Sisit, one will remember their role as a member of Yisrael and their responsibilities. Then, appropriately, the warnings not to tour after ones heart and after ones eyes; which are the spies of the body are mentioned in order to stay true to the commandments of Hashem.
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