Parshat Shelach talks about the twelve spies who were sent to scout the land of Israel. When they returned, they told the Jewish people many negative comments about the land. This caused the Jewish people to lament the possibility of living there. They also complained about wanting to go back to Egypt. Therefore, Hashem was angry at the spies and declared that the entire generation would die in the desert before entering Israel.
Hashem never forgave the Jewish people for this particular sin. We can see the consequences and punishments for this sin even today. The Torah says, “the people wept that night” which is a reference to Tisha B’Av. The Talmud further supports this idea by teaching that as punishment for the Jewish people’s unnecessary cries over the spies’ reports, Hashem brought about many tragedies that would occur on Tisha B’Av throughout the years. Throughout many generations, these tragedies would give us a “good reason to cry”.
A severe punishment such as this one is not typical. Although the Jewish people have sinned many times throughout history, the consequences to these sins have rarely been so harsh. So why was this sin of the spies so unforgivable and why was the punishment so harsh?
In Devarim, Moses reminds the Jewish people about their complaints in the desert: "You spoke slander in your tents, saying, 'It is because God hates us that He took us out of the land of Egypt". Rashi’s commentary on this pasuk helps explain how the Jewish people came to that conclusion. This is what he said: “Imagine a king who had two sons and two fields. One field was self-irrigated, while the other relied on rain for irrigation. The king gave the self-irrigated field to the son he loved, so the son would never have to worry about his crops, while he gave the field dependent on rainwater to the son he hated.” This comparison applies to how the Jews thought about their situation.
They saw that Hashem had taken them out of Egypt, which was a place with a constant source of irrigation from the Nile, and was taking them to Israel, which depended on rainfall for irrigation. Because of this, they concluded that Hashem hated them.
According to Rashi, their conclusion seems logical. But if we view the Land of Israel only through the physical benefits it provides, then we can say that there are more comfortable places to live. However, if we look at its spiritual advantages, then it’s better to live in Israel and depend on rainfall than it is to live in Egypt with no worries about water. Why is this? When we are dependent on rainfall, it forces us to grow spiritually. If there’s no rain, we have to pray. Turning to Hashem forces us to recognize that everything comes from Him and that He is the source of our sustenance.
According to this idea, we can better understand why the Jews were never forgiven for the sin of the spies. Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Spector says that the punishment we received teaches us how stringent Hashem is when it comes to having negative views and attitudes toward the Land of Israel. By cutting ourselves off from Israel, we cut ourselves off from the spiritual growth it has to offer us. Cutting ourselves from this potential defeats the whole purpose of our existence.
Ten of the spies only focused on the physical parts of Israel. Therefore, they found many things to be strange. They didn’t see the land's deeper spiritual beauty and concluded that Israel was a dangerous place to live in. Similarly tourists who visit Israel today have the choice of looking at the land negatively like the ten spies did or view the land like Yehoshua and Calev did. They were able to see the deeper vision of the land and were able to understand that Israel gives us the potential to grow spiritually. When we talk about our experiences in the Land of Israel with our family and friends, we should be extra careful to think about what we have to say about the land.
By: Dominique Behar (11th Grade)