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What a Wonderful Land

By: Mrs Leora Bednarsh

Our parsha opens with the story of the second great sin of Bnei Yisrael in the midbar, chet hameraglim.  Hashem tells Moshe to send leaders of Bnei Yisrael “latur” – to scout out the land.  They are given specific questions to answer, about the nature of the land and the nature of the people living in the land.  The “spies” come back with answers to all of the questions.  The land is good, the people are strong.  What was so terrible about what they said?  Didn’t they simply fulfill their task?

The Ramban in Bamidbar, amongst others, explains that their sin lies in one simple word.  Instead of reporting that the land is good and the people are strong, they said the land is good and “efes”, “however”, the people are strong.  With this word “efes” they changed their role from simply gathering and conveying information, as was their job, to evaluating and advising, which was beyond the purview of their mission.  Their negative assessment of Bnei Yisrael’s ability to conquer the land put the people in a panic, and this was their sin.

The Ramban’s analysis of the sin of the meraglim is predicated on his understanding that their mission was to gather information from a military perspective.  But there is another way of reading what their mission was about from the start, and another understanding of where they went wrong.

Rav Elchanan Samet points out the word meraglim, with its military implications, does not appear in our parasha at all.  The term that is used is “latur” – to scout.  This term appears 12 times in our story and is the key to understanding the original mission of the spies.  “Latur” is a rare word, and appears in several contexts to mean to scout out in order to find a suitable place.  For example, in last week’s parsha when they begin their move towards Eretz Yisrael, after Moshe parts from Yitro, we are told (Devarim 10:33): “The Ark of the Covenant of the Lord traveled in front of them on that three days’ journey to seek out (latur) a resting place for them.”  Also, Yechezkel 20:6 describes Eretz Yisrael as “a land which I had sought out ('asher tarti') for them, the fairest of all lands.”  Latur means to seek out, to investigate for the sake of choosing. 

The Ramban on the pesukim about the spies in Devarim presents an alternate explanation on the mission of the spies:  “to scout in order to choose, like a potential buyer… and this was in order to make them happy, since it was the choicest of lands, and they would then enter with great excitement.”  Hashem had clearly already chosen the land of Israel as the best place for Am Yisrael to reside.  What He wanted here was to get the people excited, and to have the people confirm and participate in His choice.  He sent the spies to see how wonderful the land was, how productive and nourishing.  He assumed that they would not consider the military implications, since Hashem had promised that He would give them the land.  Had the “scouts” had the proper faith in Hashem, they wouldn’t have considered the question of the feasibility of conquering the land, and they would have interpreted the strength of its inhabitants differently.  They would have said, “The people of the land are strong because the land is so bountiful and rich.  How fortunate are we to be inheriting such a land!”  Hashem had made it clear that this was the land of our destiny, and by rejecting it through a total lack of faith in Hashem’s ability to give us the land, they were rejecting our collective destiny, a sin for which we are still suffering today.

May we be zocheh to repair this sin, through ahavat ha'aretz, ahavat Yisrael and ahavat Hashem, and see the rebuilding of the Mikdash in our days. 

Shabbat Shalom





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