Shelach-Spys’ Replies

Anyone armed with some basic knowledge of Torah knows that during our parsha, Shelach, the “spies” whom Moshe sent to check out the land of Israel came back with a misleading report.  The result was that the Jews did not want to go up to the land of Israel to take possession, and they were instead sentenced to wander in the desert for forty years.

However, when we analyze that actual words of the spies, we see that they did not say anything “bad” about Israel.  Rather, they capitalized on themes that the Jews were already familiar with, and implied that entry into the land would repeat those circumstances.  Let us look at what the spies said (Numbers 13:28-29):

1) “The people living there are bold and the cities are very fortified, and we also saw the offspring of giants there.”  Here, the spies began to build their case on the strength of the people living in Canaan.

2) “Amalek is settled in the land of the Negev.”  Even though Amalek was not among the seven nations that occupied Canaan, the spies mentioned them in order to frighten the Jews.

3)  “The Hiti and the Yebusi and the Emori are in the mountains, while the Canaanites are settled near the sea and the Jordan.”  Here, the spies tried to tell the Jews that even before entering the land of Israel, they would encounter problems.

These claims progress from the minor to the major.  First, the claim that the land and people were strong was not likely to deter the Jews, who had already seen Moshe defeat strong nations with God’s help.  So, the spies threw in the subject of Amalek, who had the nerve to attack the Jews even when the Jews were at the “top of their game,” coming out of Egypt and receiving the Torah.  The Jews, with Moshe’s support were victorious, but the spies hoped that the mention of Amalek would suffice to throw some doubt into the minds of the Jews.  Still, it was doubtful whether mention of Amalek alone was enough to stop the Jews, so the spies mentioned the other nations that inhabited Canaan at the time, and said that the Jews would encounter them on the path into Israel.  The line of reasoning was, even though God would perform miracles for the Jews within Israel, who said that He would do so even before they entered Israel?

To all these claims, Caleb provided counter-claims: 1) To the claim that the land and people were strong, Caleb replied that Moshe had “split the sea.” The Jews had already encountered war, and were victorious, so they need not worry about the strength of the people and the land.

2) To the claim that Amalek was present, Caleb brought up the subject of the pheasants that God had provided to the Jews in the desert.  That was in response to the Jews’ false claim that they needed meat.  Just as their demand for meat was an excuse to rebel, so the claims of the spies were only an excuse to rebel.  Caleb’s answer was that even though they sought to rebel, God provided the Jews with their demand, and so would he do in the case of the spies’ false demands. God would take care of the Jews in any case.

3) In response to the statement that other nations would fight against the Jews even before they entered Israel, Caleb replied that Moshe “brought down the manna” for the Jews in the desert.  That is, even though the entire sojourn of the Jews in the desert was preparation for entering Israel, God provided the Jews with what they needed, and so He would do while leading them into Israel, as well.

Caleb capped his counter-arguments by saying, “We will definitely ascend [to the land of Israel], for we are certainly capable of conquering it (Num 13:30).  Rashi explains that “even if Israel were in the heavens and Moshe said to make ladders to get there, we would surely succeed.”  That is, until now, Moshe’s directives were eminently sensible and logical.  However, Rashi tells us that even if Moshe’s demands and directives were not logical, but rather “in the heavens,” the Jews would succeed in fulfilling them.  Moshe’s leadership was not predicated upon mere intellect and rationale, but rather on the supervision of God.

For a longer, more detailed version, go to

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol 8, page 82

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