A Paradoxical Reaction

Something struck me as odd in this week’s parsha, especially in the progression of events.

Moshe sends the spies to check out the land and its inhabitants.  Are they strong?  Do they live in fortified cities?  Basically, “can we take them?”

The spies return and basically say, “they are giants, they live in fortified cities and no, we don’t think we can take them.”  They came back and reported exactly what they were sent to report.  And despite Rashi’s interpretation that the word “lecha” means that Moshe was sending the spies for himself, not because God wanted it, this was commanded by God after all.  And yet, they are punished for this.

This makes no sense to me.  If the answer to “can we take them” is dependent entirely on God and belief in his ability to help Israel overcome all odds, then the report of the spies is irrelevant.  Why bother sending them?  And if they are going to be sent, why punish them for the truth?

The other thing that bothers me is this:  After the report of the spies, the reaction of the people is “we don’t want to go.  We would be better off returning to Egypt.  We would be better off just dying in the desert.”  So God punishes them.  How?  By giving them exactly what they ask for: “fine, you will die in the desert.  Tomorrow, break camp and head south towards Egypt.”  You would think the reaction is joy.  They are getting exactly what they want.  And yet, the Torah tells us that they “mourn greatly.”  Even more so, the next day, after making it clear that they don’t want to go face the nations of the Land, and they want to head back, and they don’t think they can win, they go by themselves and try anyway, despite their own beliefs and the punishment they just received.  Huh?  Which is it?  Are they sad about having to go or are they sad about not being able to go?  Do they want to go or not?

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7 responses to “A Paradoxical Reaction

  1. A friend and I were talking about this exact issue all Shabbos.

    …we got nothin’.

  2. I read something about this –
    In the desert, Bnei Yisroel were supposed to grow to the realization that everything comes directly from Hashem. The transition to Eretz Yisroel would be hard due to the lack of open miracles and the challenge there would be for the Jews to find Yad Hashem behind all of nature (teva). I think that even though the mission of the spies was written as ‘seeing if the inhabitants were strong, if they live in fortified cities and if we could take them?’ In reality, it meant seeing if you could see that Hashem really controls everything and the rules of nature don’t apply to you – they may seem like giants but if Hashem wants Bnei Yisroel to defeat them, they will. And that kinda fits in to what Rashi says – that Hashem didnt command them, Moshe did. It was a lesson that they were supposed to learn but apparently they didnt and thats why they were punished.

  3. Oh and in response to your second question –
    maybe Bnei Yisroel were used to using the ‘go back to Egypt’ as a threat and then getting what they want. Like when they complained about food in the desert and said why did Hashem bring us to the desert to die when we couldve died in Egypt? And remembering all the food they had for free there…and then Hashem sent the slav/meat. They were punished for complaining but then got food.

    But those are just my own thoughts. not sure if they make sense.

  4. I think that Deep BS and Torah don’t belong next to each other.

  5. Fair enough, I’ll remove the tag

  6. Rabbi Topp spoke about this on Shabbos. Good speech (and good question).

  7. I think that these questions are all addressed in the “notes” in the artscroll chumash. I was reading it on shabbos. Might be more of a surface answer, though. take a look.

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