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?