Yehoshua sent two men to spy the Land designated for Am Yisrael (the Nation of Israel) and the city of Yericho (Jericho), where they stayed with Rachav, the innkeeper. When the king of Yericho heard about the spies, he ordered Rachav to remove the men from her home, but instead Rachav hid the men on her roof. She informed the king that she did not know where the men had gone and suggested that his men chase the spies. Rachav then told the spies that after hearing of the parting of the Red Sea and of Am Yisrael’s victories against Sicḥon and Og “all the residents of the land” fear the Israelites and realize that God has given them their Land. Rachav asked the spies to swear to save her and her family when they conquer Yericho, and she requested a “true sign” of their good faith. The spies accepted Rachav’s request on the condition that she keep the matter secret. Rachav then lowered the spies by rope from the window of her home, which was in the wall of Yericho, and sent them to the hills west of the city to wait for three days while the Yericho security forces searched for them east of the city. After hiding in the hills for three days, the spies crossed back to the eastern side of the River Jordan and reported to Yehoshua that the Land has indeed been given to Am Yisrael and that its residents truly fear them.
Puzzling Points in the Chapter
We shall try to explain two puzzling things in the chapter:
- In light of the disastrous results of Moshe having sent spies into Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) – the entire generation of the exodus having to die in the wilderness without entering the Land, and bringing about all of Am Yisrael’s exiles – why did Yehoshua (who himself was one of Moses’ spies) choose to send his spies?
- We need to determine if sending spies is a positive or negative action. On one hand, the fact that God told Moshe to send spies into the Eretz Yisrael [Bamidbar (Numbers) 13:2] and Yehoshua’s choice to send his spies would seem to indicate that sending spies is positive. On the other hand, from the opening of [Devarim (Deuteronomy) 1:22-23] it appears that it was Am Yisrael s who initiated sending the spies and that the request reflected their lack of faith in the fulfillment of God’s promise to give them Eretz Yisrael (See Rashi on Bamidbar (Numbers) 13:2.)
The Torah Uses Three Different Words for “Spying”
Kli Yakar (Rabbi Shmuel Laniado, mid-16th – early-17th centuries) on the sefer (book of) Yehoshua, notes that the Torah uses three different words to describe the act of spying: “v’yaturu”, “v’yacḥperu” and “vayeraglu”.
Am Yisrael suggested: “נשלחה אנשים לפנינו ויחפרו לנו את הארץ …” (“Let us send men ahead of us so that they will search out (v’yaḥperu) the land for us and bring us back word by which route we shall go up, and to which cities we shall come”) [Devarim (Deuteronomy) 1:22].
God Himself said: “ויתורו את ארץ כנען” (“Send out for yourself men who will scout (v’yaturu) the Land of Canaan”) [Numbers 13:2].
In describing the spies’ mission, the Torah states “וירגלו אותה …” (“And they turned and went up to the mountain, and they came to the valley of Eshkol and spied (vayeraglu) it out”) [Devarim (Deuteronomy) 1:24].
Kli Yakar explains that each of the three words conveys a different intention in sending the spies.
God said “v’yaturu” which is related to the word “yitaron” (advantage), because He wanted the spies to see the advantages the Land has for Am Yisrael over all other lands, as the verse states: “… to bring them up from that land, to a good and spacious Land.” [Exodus 3:8] The goodness of the Land is spiritual goodness, which derives from the fact that the Land imparts wisdom, as Chazal (our Sages) teach [Gemara (Talmud) Bava Batra 158b], and this is preparation for a person to achieve true goodness, which is spiritual goodness, as Scripture states: “כי אין לאדם יתרון תחת השמש זולתו ויתרון ארץ זה בכל היא” (“And the loftiness (yitaron) of the Land is in everything”) [Koheles (Ecclesiastes) 5:8].
Am Yisrael were possessed of a different spirit, always seeking excuses to return to Egypt, and they therefore said “v’yaḥperu” which is related to the word “ḥerpa” (disgrace – the word ḥerpa is an anagram for ḥafor, the root word of v’yaḥperu), since they sought to reveal the weaknesses of the Land in order to complain about it and to announce “Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt!” [Bamidbar (Numbers) 14:4]
Nonetheless, the Am Yisrael did not want the spies to slander the Land, but (ten of the) spies themselves went beyond Am Yisrael and spoke lies about the Land. As they were “talebearers” (rachil), of the spies it is said “vayeraglu.” (The two words are phonetically related, see Rashi on Vayikra (Leviticus) 19:16]).
Yehoshua’s Spies – Rectification for the Spies Sent in the Generation of Wilderness
The third posuk (verse) of our perek (chapter) uses the third word connected to spying, “v’yaḥperu:” Since the word “rigul” (as in vayeraglu) conveys negative connotations of tale-bearing, its use in connection with Yehoshua’s spies [v.1] seems surprising, especially in light of our Sages’ tradition that the two spies were the righteous men Calev and Phinchas. Why are they referred to by the pejorative “meraglim?”
Kli Yakar explains that in this instance, the word “meraglim” is not derived from “rachil,” rather from the phrase “midrach caf regel” (a foothold) since they established a foothold for the Am Yisrael (Nation of Israel). Through their spying mission, Yehoshua’s agents facilitated Israel’s entry into its Land and its conquest. However, concerning Moses’ spies it is written “Vayeraglu (they spied) it out,” implying that they disparaged the Land itself and sought to slander the Land.
The king of Yericho sent word to Rachav: “וַיִּשְׁלַח֙ מֶ֣לֶךְ יְרִיח֔וֹ אֶל־רָחָ֖ב לֵאמֹ֑ר ה֠וֹצִיאִי הָאֲנָשִׁ֨ים הַבָּאִ֤ים אֵלַ֙יִךְ֙ אֲשֶׁר־בָּ֣אוּ לְבֵיתֵ֔ךְ כִּ֛י לַחְפֹּ֥ר אֶת־כָּל־הָאָ֖רֶץ בָּֽאוּ” (“Send out the men who came to you, who came to your house, because they have come to spy on (laḥpor) the entire land”) [Yehoshua 2:3]. Based upon a Midrashic approach, Kli Yakar explains that the spies’ cover was as pottery salesmen, as the verse states, Yehoshua sent them “secretly” (“ḥeresh “ – phonetically related to “cḥeres” – pottery) [v.1], and pottery makers dig (the literal meaning of “lacḥpor”) soil to make their wares. Since the Yericho region was especially fertile, the king warned that digging up soil for earthenware would be harmful to the quality of the fields. Thus, in this connection “lacḥpor” does not have the negative connotation which the word carried when expressed by the Israelites.
Kli Yakar’s comments indicate that the determination of whether a spying mission is positive or negative depends upon the goals of that mission. Therefore, each of the three terms applied to the act of spying can be either positive or negative in connotation.
The Sin of the Spies – Rejecting the “Desirable Land” – the Root of All Exiles
In Parashat Shelaḥ, following the spies’ description of Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel), the response was: “וַתִּשָּׂא֙ כָּל־הָ֣עֵדָ֔ה וַֽיִּתְּנ֖וּ אֶת־קוֹלָ֑ם וַיִּבְכּ֥וּ הָעָ֖ם בַּלַּ֥יְלָה הַהֽוּא” (“The entire community raised their voices and shouted and the people wept on that night”) [Bamidbar (Numbers) 14:1]. Chazal expounded that God said: “הן בכו בכיה של חינם ואני אקבע להם בכיה לדורות” (“They have cried for naught; I will set (this day) for weeping throughout the generations”) [Gemara Ta’anit 29a] Indeed, this is stated explicitly in Tehillim (Psalms) [106:24-27]:
” וַֽ֭יִּמְאֲסוּ בְּאֶ֣רֶץ חֶמְדָּ֑ה לֹֽא־הֶ֝אֱמִ֗ינוּ לִדְבָרֽוֹ וַיֵּרָגְנ֥וּ בְאָהֳלֵיהֶ֑ם לֹ֥א שָׁ֝מְע֗וּ בְּק֣וֹל ה’. וַיִּשָּׂ֣א יָד֣וֹ לָהֶ֑ם לְהַפִּ֥יל א֝וֹתָ֗ם בַּמִּדְבָּֽר וּלְהַפִּ֣יל זַ֭רְעָם בַּגּוֹיִ֑ם וּ֝לְזָרוֹתָ֗ם בָּאֲרָצֽוֹת“
“They rejected the desirable Land; they did not believe His word. They complained in their tents; they did not listen to the voice of God. He raised His hand to cast them down in the desert. And to cast their seed among the nations and to scatter them in the lands.” (See Rashi, ibid., and Ramban on Bamidbar 14:1]
The posuk states explicitly that “The Desirable Land” is one of the names of Eretz Yisrael. Connection to the Land requires desiring and yearning for her. Am Yisraels’ weeping on the night they heard the spies’ report demonstrated that they did not desire the Land. Had Am Yisrael loved the Land sufficiently, their hearts would not have melted, nor would they have experienced the fear and trepidation which lead them to desperation.
In contrast, the women of the generation of the wilderness were not included in the decree that the those who left Egypt would not enter the Promised Land, as Rashi comments on the verse “Among these (those counted in the census at the end of the forty years in the wilderness, namely those who entered the Land) there was no man who had been (included) in the census of Moshe and Aaron when they counted the Children of Israel in the Sinai wilderness.” [Bamidbar 26:64] Rashi, based upon a Midrash, comments: “However, the women were not included in the decree of the generation of the spies, since they held the Land dear. The men said ‘Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt’ [Bamidbar 14:4], while the women said ‘Give us a portion (of the Land).’” [27:4]
Rectification of the Sin of the Spies: Expression and Actions of Love and Yearning for the “Desirable Land”
We have learned that in contrast to the negative motivation which Am Yisrael of the generation of the wilderness had in sending spies into the Land, Yehoshua’s spies were sent with positive motivation, to connect with the Divine will.
We as well, can participate in the rectification of the sin of the spies through actions which convey our love of the “Desirable Land” – Eretz Yisrael. There are numerous ways of demonstrating love for Eretz Yisrael, for example: purchasing the produce of the Land, even if it is more expensive than produce from abroad; to speak only positively of the Land; to mourn its destruction and rejoice in its rebuilding. The more we demonstrate our love for the Land, the greater our ability to return to her and hold onto her. Amen. May it be His will.