Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • D'varim
To dedicate this lesson

Who Asked and for What Purpose?


Rabbi Moshe Erenreich

In this week’s parasha, Moshe recounts some of the major events that transpired during Bnei Yisrael’s stay in the desert, including the sending of the spies. There are differences between Moshe’s presentation of the events (in Sefer Devarim) and the narrative’s (in Sefer Bamidbar), when the event took place. The most famous one is that Moshe relates the initiative for the mission to the people (Devarim (1: 22-23), whereas Hashem (in Bamidbar 13: 1-3) presents it as His idea. What actually happened?
The Ramban says that the people first suggested sending spies, Moshe liked the idea, and finally Hashem mandated it with His guidelines. Thus, Bamidbar brings the true, final part of the story, while Devarim goes to the root in order to rebuke Bnei Yisrael for the problematic nature of their involvement. The Malbim explains similarly that the people did ask, but that was not pertinent in Bamidbar, which was related right after the matter had occurred, when there was no need to tell the people that which they already knew.
There is another difference between the presentations, which is less famous but perhaps just as significant. The verb used in Bamidbar to describe the function of the spies is latur (perhaps best translated as to spy). In Devarim, the verb used is lachpor, which, while meaning something similar, literally means to dig. The gemara (Sota 34b) connects this with the pasuk (Yeshaya 24) "V’chafra halevana u’vosha hachama" (the moon and the sun were disgraced). Rashi says that the request to send the spies was a disgrace to Hashem. The Maharsha explains that Hashem had already told the people that the Land was very good, and therefore He did not think they needed to check if it was indeed good. After all, would Hashem give a sub-par Land to His chosen nation?
It is true that in the wars that Bnei Yisrael waged upon entering the Land, serious war efforts were expected to be used despite Hashem’s ultimate responsibility for their victories. Hashem was in full agreement that the two spies that Yehoshua sent undertake their mission, which was much more technical: to recommend where they should start their campaign. The people in the desert, though, wanted to determine whether the Land was good or not. Moshe had not understood that this is what the people wanted but Hashem, of course, did. Hashem told Moshe that he should send according to his understanding.
We see from here that even when we legitimately attempt to see how we should naturally go about settling in Eretz Yisrael and when it makes sense to take what steps, we should always remember that we are talking about the Land that Hashem chose to give to His nation, Israel.
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