Ask the rabbi

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • Tisha B'Av

Sin of the Spies


Rabbi David Samson

11 Elul 5763
What is the connection between the Sin of the Spies in the wilderness and the Destruction of the Temple?
For our readers who may be unfamiliar with the episode of the Spies, the Books of Numbers describes how Moshe sent out the leaders of the generation to the Land of Israel ahead of the congregation in order to spy out the terrain on the eve of conquering Eretz Yisrael. Ten out of the twelve, excluding Joshua and Calev ben Yefuneh, returned with a frightening report, discouraging the Jewish People from wanting to journey on to the Promised Land. In punishment, G-d decreed that the entire adult generation perish in the wilderness.[1] Our sages teach that the slanderous tale of the Spies against the Land of Israel occurred on the night of Tisha B’Av. Because the Jewish People cried for no reason, since the Land was truly good as G-d had promised, the Almighty vowed to give them a real cause to weep in the future – on the very same night of Tisha B’Av when both Temples were destroyed.[2] In the Psalms of King David, we learn the tragic consequences of this historic transgression: “And they despised the cherished Land; they did not believe His word, and they were murmuring in their tents; they listened not to the voice of G-d. And He cast His hand upon them to destroy them in the wilderness and to subjugate their children to the gentiles, and to disperse them into the different foreign lands.[3] The sin of Spies was of such monumental proportions that its punishment transcended the immediate generation and adversely affected the Jewish People throughout history until this day. Rabbi Hillel of Shklov, a student of the Gaon of Vilna, quotes his teacher in these words: “To our great chagrin, many commit this monstrous sin of despising the cherished Land. Also many Torah scholars are unaware that they have been snared in the sin of the Spies. They have been swept up by the trap of the sin of the Spies by all kinds of negative thoughts, valueless claims, and complaints…against the Land.”[4] At the root of the sin of the Spies was a grievous lack of Emunah, or faith, in G-d’s ability to ensure the Jewish People a secure future in the Land of Israel, as the Torah itself states: “And in this matter, you did not believe in the L-rd your G-d.”[5] In the matter of making Aliyah to Israel. The Spies claimed that the inhabitants of the land of Caanan were stronger than the Jews. Rashi explains that the Spies were implying that the inhabitants of Canaan were stronger than G-d.[6] In order for the Divine Presence to be manifest in the world, and for mankind to reach its intended perfection, the Jewish People must live a Torah life in the Land of Israel. When one of these factors is missing, the entire Divine edifice crumbles. The Spies rebelled against G-d’s plan for the world by wanting to establish the Jewish Nation in the wilderness of Sinai. It was this fundamental lack of belief and trust in G-d that led to the Temple’s destruction and our subsequent exile from the Land of Israel. The Temple is not only a place of worship, but the living center of Jewish nationhood, the footstool of the Shechina in this world, where all of the nation gathers three times a year to express our holy national calling. The Gemara teaches that the Temple was already destroyed before Titus set fire to its walls. That is to say, it was not Titus and his army who razed the Temple, but the breakdown of faith on the part of the Jewish People which left the Temple an empty shell.[7] When the People of Israel abandon their faith in G-d and His Torah, they jeopardize their share in the Covenant that G-d forged with Abraham and his descendants – to give us the Land of Israel as an eternal inheritance[8] The destruction of the Temple and the exile of the scattered nation into foreign lands was preempted when the Spies turned the hearts of the Jewish People against the Promised Land. May it be G-d’s will that the words of emunah spoken by Joshua and Calev be quickly fulfilled in our time: “Let us go up at once and possess it, for we are well able to conquer it.”[9] With renewed faith in G-d, we will rectify the sin of the Spies with the return of all of our people to our cherished Land, where we will work together toward the speedy rebuilding of the Temple. 1. Numbers, 13-14. 2. Taanit 29A. 3. Psalms, 106:24. 4. Kol HaTor, Ch. 5. 5. Deut. 1:2. 6. Numbers, 13:31. Rashi. 7. Gittin 58B. 8. Genesis, 17:8. 9. Numbers, 13:30.
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