(photo credit: Courtesy)
We have been following Am Yisrael’s journeys in the desert since its exodus from
Egypt via unexpected miracles, through receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai. Now
we stand with the wandering nation at the cusp of its goal: the longed-for land,
Now we encounter a spying episode that gets complicated
and, ultimately, leaves the nation in the desert for an additional 38
The nation turns to its leader, Moshe, and presents a legitimate
request: We are about to enter Eretz Yisrael, but it’s reasonable to assume that
the nations currently living in it will not be handing over the land on a silver
It is very reasonable to assume that there will be a struggle
over the land. If so, we need preliminary information on where and how we should
conquer the land. Please send spies to explore it and return with important and
critical information that will guarantee our success in the
After receiving qualified approval from G-d, Moshe agrees to
the request and sends 12 spies to do the work and come back with the necessary
information. The spies explore Eretz Yisrael for 40 days, examining and
researching the land and the characteristics of its inhabitants, and come back
with a radical determination: No chance! “Nevertheless, the people that dwell in
the land are fierce, and the cities are fortified.... We are not able to go up
against the people; for they are stronger than we....
The land, through
which we have passed to spy it out, is a land that eats up the inhabitants
thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of great stature... and we
were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.” (Numbers
13, 28-33) Let’s pay attention to the difficult facts the spies conveyed to Am
Yisrael: The cities are fortified and very large, the land itself is a bad
place, and the residents are powerful and so much stronger than we are that we
seem like grasshoppers in comparison! The disappointment is huge. Why did we
leave Egypt, asks the depressed nation. In order to lose the war over the land?
It would have been better to have remained in Egypt to die.
that fell on the nation following the words of the spies showed that the nation
was not yet spiritually ready to enter Eretz Yisrael and conduct independent
national life there. And indeed, the nation stayed in the desert for another 38
years during which it got ready and prepared itself appropriately for its future
life in Eretz Yisrael.
We must look to see how this turnaround came
The spies were not actually asked to voice an opinion on whether
there was a chance to conquer the land. They were sent to collect information on
how to do it.
What caused them to change their minds and veer away from
the purpose for which they were sent? The ones who answer this question are,
surprisingly, the spies themselves.
In the course of the despairing
description of the land and its inhabitants, the spies blurt out a statement
that exposes what was going on in their hearts when they conducted the spying
mission. “...and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in
The spies failed where they should have made more of an
effort and clung to faith. Since G-d promised Eretz Yisrael to Am Yisrael, the
fact that the inhabitants of the land were strong and courageous should have, at
most, made the spies wonder how G-d plans on keeping His promise.
they reached a different conclusion. They suddenly saw themselves as small, as
grasshoppers, as lacking ability.
They lost their confidence in G-d’s
promise – and at the moment they saw themselves as so weak, they seemed that way
in the eyes of the inhabitants of the land.
Here, we discover a human
phenomenon that exists in each one of us. We have different missions – to be
better, more loyal, more ideological. But it is not always easy.
dictates hardships on the path to our worthy missions.
We have two
choices in how to deal with these hardships. One way is to reach the conclusion
reached by the spies: We are small, weak, unable, grasshoppers. In this way we
weaken ourselves even if it is not true, and bring failure upon
But the other path is to rise above the fears, overcome the
apprehension and be secure in our abilities to reach the goals we have set for
ourselves. If we choose this path, we will discover that we are not so weak, and
that we have abilities we did not recognize. If we believe in our path and are
convinced that we are acting appropriately, it will cause others to fear us and
value our strength, and will lead us to success.The writer is rabbi of
the Western Wall and Holy Sites.