“And you all approached me, and said: ‘Let us send out people in front of us to spy out the land’” Deuteronomy 1:22


 In this parashah, Moses again speaks of the spies who were sent out to spy the land and brought back negative reports. Because the Jews believed it, they were fated to stay in the desert for forty years. 

The story seems strange, because the Jews’ only sin was to listen to what they heard from the spies. Why were they punished in such a harsh manner?

It is interesting to note that the Midrash dealing with the story of the spies sees the spies’ negative report as a foregone conclusion. The spies, the Midrash argues, are just a product of a nation who lacked faith in God.  

More than once, God (through Moses) had told them that they were entering a land which was filled with milk and honey, and yet, the Israelites did not believe in God and wanted to send out spies to prove the veracity of those words. Their desire for spies illustrated their lack of faith.

Thus, when the people heard the negative reports about the land and cried that entire night, their crying was almost scripted; it was expected.

As free as the spies may have been from the rest of the nation, they were still a product of it. The Torah tells us that God chose the spies themselves, as men of stature, heads of the Israelites. Such people should have been immune to the pressures placed on them by their followers.  

Yet, with the exception of two spies who brought back positive feedback to the people, the rest identified with the Jewish people who didn’t want to go into the land of Canaan, and this is one of the main reasons for the negative reports which are brought back to the people. 

It was not only what they saw that disheartened them, but the projection of a desire not to go into the land that they had already accepted, which consciously or unconsciously guided  their words.

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