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16/06/2017

The request of the tribes to send spies to view the Land of Canaan was it would seem supported by both Hashem and Moshe. Hashem as the name of our Parasha  שלח לך  indicates tells Moshe to “send for you”. It is true He is saying “for you” but as shown in other cases where spies are used (Moshe sent spies to Yazer an Amorite town (Bemidbar 21:32); Joshua sending two spies to Jericho as related in our Haftara), He is not averse to the use of spies. Similarly, Moshe when he recounts the story in Devarim says that he was happy וייטב בעיני הדבר. Ramban says that Moshe was right as we shouldn’t rely on miracles. So what went wrong?


Moshe sends the 12 spies with two objectives. Firstly, he is interested militarily in the lay of the land, where the enemy’s strengths and weaknesses are. Secondly, he is looking for a report back to the people on how good the land and its fruits are, probably as a morale booster. 10 of the 12 spies however fundamentally undermine the mission’s objectives.


Instead of providing information to help with military tactics, they conclude that it is mission impossible. They grudgingly accept that the land is plentiful but then negate its value when they mendaciously say that the land consumes its inhabitants והארץ אוכלת את יושבה. Furthermore, instead of thrashing out their concerns privately with Moshe they go to the people initially in front of Moshe and then also behind his back creating a populist frenzy.


There are a number of lessons here. Firstly, in general whilst it is legitimate to have concerns, they need to be aired and talked through in a private forum. Further, whilst in the case of the spies, there was no excuse for not believing in the mission (as Hashem Himself argues “how long will this people not believe in me despite the miracles I have wrought in their midst” (Bemidbar 14:11), it is not always so clear cut. For example, there were real divisions in the opinion of the religious and lay leadership at the time of the Churban (for example see Gittin 56b where Ribbi Akiva argues that Rabban Yochanan Ben Zaccai did not request enough from the Emperor Vespasian). Nevertheless, even in a case where there are differences of opinion on what is the right strategy, solving issues behind closed doors is a better approach than going public too quickly.


Furthermore, it is important to consider your motivation in promoting views that will undermine the path a community or society is taking. In the case of the errant spies it may simply have been genuine fear. Once the motivation is understood it can be directly addressed without repercussions to others by creating unnecessary uncertainty and sapping morale.


Finally, when you are on the receiving end of someone’s opinion, you have to have your eyes wide open and be careful of the propagandist who weaves in lies amongst truths. They are the most believable and destructive. שבת שלום.