Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Shlach Lecha
קטגוריה משנית
To dedicate this lesson
We all know the story of the spies… or do we? Moshe agreed to send tribal leaders to scout the future Land of Israel. They raved about the Land’s bounty but warned that it was impractical to conquer it. The men were afraid they would be killed in battle, with their wives and children becoming captives. Hashem decreed that the nation must wait 40 years so that the men would die out and their children would enter the Land. However, a pasuk in Tehillim and a midrash suggest a different story.
"They despised the Coveted Land" (Tehillim 106:24). Did they despise it, or did they just fear the dangers involved? Midrash Tanchuma (Shelach 5) brings an ostensibly inaccurate parable. A king selected the most wonderful bride for his son. The son asked to see her before agreeing to marry her because he did not believe his father. The king decreed that his son would see how wonderful the girl was but would not marry her; rather, the son’s son would. For the story to be parallel the son should have seen the girl and rejected her. More accurately, he should have been scared off by fear of rival suitors and not trusted his father’s promise to defend him. What do we make of the comparison as is?

The parable has a deep message, comparing the Land reserved for Bnei Yisrael to a beautiful bride selected for a prince. Popular culture and experience teach that a man who is really in love will do most anything to "secure" the woman he wants to marry. Obstacles and even danger will not deter him. Had Bnei Yisrael been as enthralled with the Promised Land as they should have been after Hashem’s promise, they would not have asked to check it out. Similarly, the fearful reaction to the spies’ evaluation was a further sign of their initial lack of enthusiasm. Otherwise, love would have made them cast fears aside and prepare to overcome the obstacles. (Those with an eye on Israeli politics could claim a modern parallel). Thus, Bnei Yisrael’s fate was already set when their indifference prompted the scouts’ mission, as the midrash implies. The rest was just playing out the plot.

The midrash teaches additional lessons. The king knew that he wanted the woman as mother of his dynasty’s future generations. He also wanted his son to have the pleasure of her companionship. When the son proved unworthy, she entered the king’s family at the next stage. Following the parable through, we see a not so rosy picture. By the time the prince begot a son of marriageable age, the bride had aged and was presumably not as fit for her new groom as she would have been for his father. Similarly, the generation that should have had Israel as a "mother" had the desert as a "mother" and Israel as a "wife." While still a wonderful "wife," one has to suspect that the delay of a generation was more than a matter of time but hindered the next generation’s chances of developing in the ideal manner.

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