Rav Yisrael Krengel
Former Rosh Kollel Johannesburg (2002-3)
The entire episode of the sin of the spies has far reaching consequences. Instead of entering The Land of Israel, the Nation remained in the desert for forty years as the generation died out. According to the famous gemara in Taanit 29a, the subsequent exiles also have there roots in this event. The Ramban (Bamidbar 14:1) points out that this is actually expressed clearly in Tehillim, 106:24-27.
It is therefore imperative to understand what went wrong.
It is phenomenal to contrast the different reports the spies give upon their return from the land. Ten of the spies cast a very negative picture ( Bamidbar Chapter 13) :
“They told him and said, “We came to the land to which you sent us, and it is flowing with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people who inhabit the land are mighty, and the cities are extremely huge and fortified, and there we saw even the offspring of the giant… We are unable to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we. They spread an [evil] report about the land which they had scouted, telling the children of Israel, The land we passed through to explore is a land that consumes its inhabitants, and all the people we saw in it are men of stature. There we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, descended from the giants. In our eyes, we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes”.
In the midst of all this Yehoshua and Calev have the courage to stand up and give a wonderful report (Bamidbar Chapter 14):
“They spoke to the entire congregation of the children of Israel, saying, “The land we passed through to scout is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord desires us, He will bring us to this land and give it to us, a land flowing with milk and honey. But you shall not rebel against the Lord, and you will not fear the people of that land for they are [as] our bread. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.”
How can it be that after seeing the same land, the same facts, they came back with such opposing reports?
Rashi sheds light on the issue. based on the Gemara in Sota 34b. In describing the spies’ excursion, the Torah (Bamidbar 13:22) states: “They went up in, the south, and he came to Hevron,…”
Why does the verse start in the plural, but switch to the singular in reference to going to Hevron?
Rashi answers as follows:
“And he came to Hebron: Calev went there alone to prostrate himself on the graves of the patriarchs [in prayer] that he not be enticed by his colleagues to be part of their counsel.
This is suggesting that it is all about perspective. The way we perceive things is based on how we go into the experience. Calev, unlike the others, wanted to ensure that he had the right attitude. He strove to see the land through the eyes of the forefathers. By going to Hevron he was aiming to emulate Avraham Avinu who left everything to heed Hashem’s command.
Tragically, the other spies did not even go to Hevron. They did not want to be in line with the perspective of the Patriarchs.
The Sefat Emet (the second Rebbe of Gur) in the year 5661 (1901), takes this one step further. He explains that it also says something about the essence of the land of Israel and its relationship with the nation. He quotes a beautiful Midrash (Bamidbar Rabba, 23;6) that says “sometimes you have a good looking person with ugly clothes, and sometimes you have an ugly person in fancy clothes. However the Nation of Israel is perfect for the Land and the Land is perfect for the Nation”
Based on this the Sfat emet says that “the land of Israel is only for the children of Israel. Only for them will it reveal the beautiful light that is hidden within it. The land makes us a better nation and likewise we make it a better land. The holiness of the land is hidden, but the Nation is the vessel through which the hidden light is exposed.”
This implies that the land did not look so good before we inhabited it. That is really what the spies saw. The greatness of Yehoshua and Calev was that they could see the potential, the hidden light that was waiting for us to unleash it.
In the last century, we have certainly seen how a barren land blossomed due to the return of its people. We can feel how much the land makes us into better people. However, we need to realize how much living in the land improves the land itself and helps to bring out its holiness.
Since this year is a Shemita year, this message is all the more tangible.
May we all be able to look at the Land with the right perspective, so that Hashem will bring the Final Redemption speedily in our days.