The Sin of the Spies

In this week’s Torah reading (Parshat Shelach Lecha, Numbers 13-15) we read about the sin of the spies. God tells Moses to send men to spy out the land of Israel before the Jewish people’s entry into the land. Twelve spies are sent and ten of them bring back a bad report and a report that they’ll never be able to conquer it. The Jewish people cry and as a punishment for this sin. The punishment for this sin is that the Jewish people must wander the desert for another thirty-eight years and none of that generation may enter the promised land (except Joshua and Calev who brought back a good report of the land and also believed that the Jewish people, with God’s help, could conquer the land).

Some people nowadays seem to have a similar attitude towards Israel. Jews pray three times a day and every prayer service contains supplications to God that we may return to Israel and Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. Jews have been praying for this for the past two thousand years since the destruction of the Second Temple. For some inexplainable reason, we finally have the opportunity to return yet people choose not to. Many people would like to come to Israel but find it difficult to just pick up and leave, for a variety of reasons. Others, don’t even want to return. I think they’re dreaming and I don’t understand what they pray for every day (or they don’t understand).

What can we learn from the mistake of the ten spies?

We should always talk positively about Israel and appreciate the tremendous good God has done for us by returning to us to this special land after a two thousand year exile.

At the end of last week’s Torah reading (Numbers 12), we read about Miriam slandering Moses and being punished for it. The spies should have learnt from Miriam not to speak slander about the land.

One final insight which is very important for all people in all walks of life.

Numbers 13:33 says:

And there we saw the Nephilim, the sons of Anak, who come of the Nephilim; and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.’

The spies are lacking in their own self-esteem and this causes others to see them in this same way. We are what we think of ourselves. If we believe we can succeed we have a much higher chance of succeeding than if we don’t have this belief.

Furthermore, how we perceive others is often determined by how we perceive ourselves. The Baal Shem Tov says that other people are a mirror. You only see dirt on the mirror if there’s dirt on your face. You only see the flaws in others if your own perception of things is flawed. This doesn’t mean one should be naive, but perception and attitude is everything.

The spies had their own flaws and so couldn’t see the good of the land. They saw the glass to be half-empty instead of half-full.


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