By Rabbi Benjy Rickman
Former shaliach in Capetown (1998- 99)
Currently Head of Kodesh Studies in King David High School, Manchester
and Assistant Rabbi at Holy Law Shul

Written L’ilui Nishmant my son, Naftali Meir Z’’L

We all have our favourite Parashiot. Some shine light on great personalities whose lives inspire and guide us to this very day. Others fill us with joy as we read about the downfall of an enemy. This Shabbat, the Torah story is a tragic one. Chazal saw in the tears that were shed after the spies reported back the roots of crying throughout history.

Where did things go wrong?

One of my favourite commentators, the Kli Yakar, presents a number of interesting insights that offer a different perspective on this well-known narrative.

I am going to focus on the opening three words  “שְׁלַח־לְךָ֣ אֲנָשִׁ֗ים”  ‘Send for yourself men’.

We know from the beginning of Lech Lecha that the additional word “lecha” means that there will be a benefit to the subject of the text , in our case Moshe.  Sending spies will not help the nation. They will not find answers to their questions, doubts and anxieties. Moshe Rabbeinu, though, will benefit. The decree forbidding Moshe entry to Eretz Yisrael was already in place. The fiasco with the spies unintentionally resulted in Moshe living for an additional forty years. I am not sure what impact that would have had on Moshe. Imagine hearing that you will survive but thousands will perish during your life time because of a choice you made! It is possible that at this stage Moshe was simply being told that the mission won’t succeed in assuaging their concerns and not that it would be a colossal failure resulting in a generation of men dying.

The Kli Yakar presents another interpretation. Hashem specifically asked Moshe to choose the men for the mission using his Ruach Hakodesh to determine how genuine each person was. It is easy to get confused and assume someone with physical presence or financial clout are worthy of important tasks. So Hashem says “Shelach lecha anashim” send people who are lecha anashim, men of integrity in your opinion. Again, how Moshe would have felt after they came back with their report is a real concern. Did he inadvertently get it so wrong?

This is where the third peshat comes in. This time the Kli Yakar splits the text.” Lecha anashim,” only you, Moshe, think they are men of upstanding ethics, morals and spirituality. They were at that moment. However, Hashem knows that they are on a path of self-destruction. This idea might mitigate the negative feelings Moshe might have felt. After all what could he have done?

According to the Kli Yakar, Moshe should have sent women and not men. The women loved the land more than the men and had they been sent they might have thought differently- Lecha anashim, But I, Hakadosh Baruch Hu would send “Nashim” who look at the land differently.

There are many ways to explain this Parasha, common to many is the enduring love, respect and attachment we must have for the land. This Shabbat is a perfect opportunity to contemplate what we might have said had we been sent to check out the land.