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Parashat Shelah Lecha


The episode of the spies was not only disastrous for the generation of the exodus who perished during the 40 years of wandering in the desert, but it has also cast a pall over future generations. The night that the Israelites wept upon hearing the alarming report of the Spies was the eve of the ninth day of the month of Av, the day on which both the first and second temples in Jerusalem would be destroyed centuries later.


In contrast, Joshua sent spies prior to entering the land of Israel, and the mission was highly successful. Why did these two apparently similar incidents have such radically different consequences?


The answer is simple and most instructive. As their response indicates, the spies of Moses went to see whether the land was conquerable or not. Although G-d had assured them that they would receive the land, they did not have trust in Him, and they deliberated whether or not the Divine word was reliable. Their lack of faith would itself deny them the ability to conquer and settle in the land of Israel, as the first Prime Minister of Israel David Ben Gurion said “In Israel in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles.” The spies of Joshua, on the other hand, had no doubt about their ultimate triumph. Their mission was to determine the best method for entering the land, and they sought only how to implement the Divine will.