This week we read about the tragic sin of the wilderness. We refer to this episode as the sin of the spies. But was it their sin? As we know, as a result of the report they relayed to Moshe and the people, it was decreed that this generation will not enter Eretz Yisrael. Perhaps the sin of the Am, the nation, would have been a preferable way to refer to this unfortunate event. On further thought we may ask, who sent the spies on the mission that caused this change in history. Was it indeed Moshe, was it the people, or was it in fact, as the opening words of this parsha suggest, Hashem?
It is clear that we cannot possibly hope to answer all these questions within the scope of a written shiur such as this. However, we will examine several aspects of the sin by referring to the choice of haftara that is read in tandem with parshat Shelach Lecha.
The chapter of navi chosen for this week is relatively well known. It is the story of the spies whom Yehoshua sent to investigate the Yericho area prior to Am Yisrael’s departure to conquer the land. As we have stated previously, the haftara is chosen for both its linguistic and thematic connections to the parsha. In this case, the linguistic conections are simple. The first pasuk speaks of “meraglim”. Anyone familiar with Torah will automatically recall the story of the “meraglim” in this week’s parsha. [Ironically, the spies are not termed meraglim in parshat Shelach Lecha but only in the other account of the episode in parshat Devarim.] The thematic connection is also obvious; another tale of sending representatives on a mission to Eretz Yisrael.
However, on a closer examination of the two stories we are struck by their differences. Moshe sends 12 heads of state, a representative of each tribe, on a fact-finding mission to Israel. Their role was to investigate the military strength of the inhabitants, the constitution of the local populous and the agricultural promise of the land. (See Bamidbar 13: 17-20) Their mission lasted 40 days and spanned the entire length and breadth of the country. Yehoshua, on the other hand, sends two anonymous spies on a clearly defined mission to investigate the land and Yericho. The exact type of report Yehoshua sought is unclear to us; it becomes clearer only at the end of the chapter.
If the stories are so different why did Chazal specifically group them together?
Let us examine the haftara a little more closely. The two spies arrive in Yericho and go directly to the house of harlotry managed by Rachav. It would appear that this was a good place to be incognito, a source of gossip and, as we discover later on, it was situated in the stronghold of Yericho, its wall. From this point on, the entire story hinges around the local king’s attempt to capture the two infiltrators and the latter’s ensuing escape with the help of Rachav. We are left wandering as to what their actual mission was. Did they complete their investigation simply by visiting this place of questionable repute?
The first suggestion we will raise is, yes, this did complete their mission. They discovered a king totally paranoid about a couple of uninvited guests. He seems petrified of the nation parked on his doorstep. How else could one explain the intelligence network needed to notice two strangers in an establishment most probably noted for its privacy. The king then makes every effort to capture the spies immediately. The monarch’s actions demonstrate his concern as to Am Yisrael and their intent to conquer his land. This concern would filter down to the regular infantry and the army was therefore lacking confidence. This fact is reported by the two spies to Yehoshua at the end of the perek:
“.. Vegam namogu kol yoshevei ha’aretz mipaneinu” in fact all the inhabitants of the land are quaking before us. (Yehoshua 2: 22) In summation, the spies had discovered the level of morale of the leader and the residents of Yericho.
The continuation of the narrative suggests that there is more to this episode than outlined above. In a brave and courageous move, Rachav decides to help the spies to escape, at the risk of receiving a harsh punishment from the local authorities. In the midst of the tension she turns to the spies and says:
” Yodati ki natan Hashem lachem et ha’aretz, vechi nafla eimatchem aleinu, vechi namogu kol yoshevei ha’aretz mipaneinu” I know that Hashem has given the country to you, the dread of you has fallen upon us and the inhabitants of the land are quaking before you. (Yehoshua 2: 9) She then continues to explain how the local residents heard of how Hashem dried up the Yam Suf, and of the victories Am Yisreal had gained over the two Emorite kings. This is what caused the people to tremble before Am Yisrael, says rachav. She concludes: “For Hashem your G-d is the only G-d in the heaven above and on the earth below.” (Yehoshua 2: 11) Rachav then asks the spies to swear that when Yericho is conquered she will be spared.
We see from Rachav’s words that not only was the king petrified but the regular people too were scared of Am Yisrael’s impending assault. Note how the spies use Rachav’s exact words when they make their report to Yehoshua, (Yehoshua 2:24). Further more, we note that Rachav is not merely scared; she in awe of Am Yisrael. Her brief speech reminds us of the words used by Yitro when he decides to join Am Yisrael. Yitro, too, heard of everything Hashem did to Egypt and he too was convinced of Hashem’s greatness and truth.
This parallel contributes to the spies’ intelligence report. They discover not only the willingness, or lack thereof, of the residents to fight and beat Am Yisrael. They uncover an emotional and religious connection to the fate of Bnei Yisrael. This is a crucial element in their report to Yehoshua. Not only will the military resistance be minimal but “Hashem has given the land into our hands”, both physically and theologically. The people of Yericho will not fight us because they feel that we are right. The purpose of conquering Eretz Yisrael is being realized as Am Yisrael wait outside the borders.
A further parallel to the earlier generation is also apparent. The spies instruct Rachav that in order to ensure her rescue from the war with Yericho, she must hang a red thread from her window. She must then gather all her household members and instruct them to stay inside the house. Any person who strays from the house may be killed with the other residents of the town. This is strikingly similar to the actions required of Bnei Yisrael prior and during Makat Bechorot. Blood was to be sprinkled on the doorposts and all the family was to gather inside the house. Anyone who did not perform these tasks was liable to be smitten with the Egyptians.
In both cases, the home and the red color are symbols through which someone is saved from the plague while those around them are afflicted. Hashem passed over the houses with the blood of the Pesach. Yehoshua and his soldiers rescued the inhabitants of the house with the scarlet thread from certain death.
In these similarities and differences lies the connection between the parsha and haftara. One view of the sin committed in this week’s parsha is that there prevailed a misunderstanding of the relationship between Hashem and Am Yisrael. After enjoying the comforts of Hashem’s miracles throughout their journey in the wilderness, Am Yisrael were scared to enter Eretz Yisrael on their own. They therefore sought information about Eretz Yisrael; military, habitation prospects, agricultural data, in the hope that they could prepare themselves for their entrance into Eretz Yisrael. When the spies returned with a less than enthusiastic report, they decided that this mission was one that they could not undertake. They failed to comprehend that Hashem was not going to dump them in Israel and leave. Hashem’s hashgacha, would continue even as they traverse the Jordan river into Israel. Yes, the miracles of the midbar will not go on forever, but Hashem is still overlooking Am Yisrael.
Who made this error? It seems to have been a combination of all the elements, Moshe, the spies and the people. The haftara of this week serves a purpose above and beyond those outlined above. This perek in Yehoshua is the “tikkun” the rectification of chet Hameraglim. Yehoshua does not question whether Am Yisrael should enter Eretz Yisrael but rather how this can best be accomplished. The spies discover that the morale of the local inhabitants is low and that they are beginning themselves to believe in Am Yisrael.
Here we see that Am Yisrael are understanding that Hashem is still directly involved in His nation. Why is that – simply because the message of Am Yisrael is being spread to other nations. That is our role and in order for us to fulfill it, Hashem guides us along. Yehoshua’s spies state that Hashem has given the land into our hands. They are confirming that Hashem is with Am Yisrael.
This idea is contrasted by the comparison we noted above between Rachav’s house and Pesach. The blood on Pesach was the signal for Hashem, the scarlet thread in Rachav’s home the symbol for the people. The same notion, but a different period in our history. Hashem overlooks, Hashem assists but we, Am Yisrael must play our part.
This is the challenge of Eretz Yisrael. We must understand that our fate is dependant on Hashem, that Hashem is with us and wants us to succeed in our role as His people. In tandem with that, we must remember that we are no longer in the midbar. In Israel we, the people must take charge of our lives. It is up to us to create the society which will make us worthy of being called the nation of God.
Shabbat Shalom – Rav Yonatan
As before, we may have raised more questions than we have answered. Such is the nature of our limmud torah. I hope that the shiur will at least create the impetus for further discussion on the subject.