What Was the Sin of the Ten Spies?
Something crucial took place at the threshold of the Promised Land. Mosheh sent twelve spies to the land. Ten spies brought an evil report and the journey from Sinai to the land took not eleven days but thirty-eight years. The generation of the Exodus became “the generation of the desert.” So, what went wrong?
Israel came out of Egypt in the month of the aviv. They were led to the mountain where they entered into a wedding ceremony with YHVH and as a result of which the Torah, the wedding contract, was given to them. A year later, they celebrated Passover in the Wilderness of Sinai. And a month later the children of Israel kept the second Passover, following which they departed from Mount Sinai and took their journey to the Promised Land.
Israel decamped from Mount Sinai on the twentieth of the second month in the second year (Num 10:11) and set forth on a three days’ journey (Num_10:33), following which they ate the quail for thirty days (Num 11:20). That brings us up to the twenty-second of the third month. Then Miriam was secluded outside of the camp for seven days (Num 12:15), following which they began their journey toward the land of Kana’an which Elohim promised to their forefathers.
And something crucial took place there at the threshold of the Promised Land. Mosheh sent the twelve (Num 13:1-2) to the land. They went out on the 29th of the third month and they returned from spying out the land at the end of forty days (Num 13:25). The fourth month was a “full” month (of thirty days) that year, meaning that they returned on the eighth of the fifth month.
They all but two, Kalev and Yehoshua, brought an evil report of disbelief that they could not conquer the Land the Almighty had already told them they would inherit, if they would just believe His promise. Thus, by bringing an evil report, the ten spies rejected the object of the Covenant the Creator made with the father Avraham, as it is further written, “And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night.”
Rabbah said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan:
That night was the night of the ninth of Av (the fifth month). Said G-d to them: You have wept without cause; therefore, I will set aside this day for a weeping throughout the generations to come. (Talmud, Taanit 29b)
On the ninth of the fifth month, it was decreed that Israel should not enter the Promised Land because of their distrust. It is worth noticing here that five misfortunes befell the fathers on the ninth of the fifth month: (1) it was decreed that Israel should not enter the Promised Land, (2) the first and (3) second Temple were destroyed (2Ki_25:3-12, Jer_52:6-16), (4) Bethar, the stronghold of Bar Kochba, fell ending the last attempt for independence, (5) and the city of Yerushalayim was destroyed (Ibid., 26b). And per the tradition, Elohim commanded a fast and mourning on this day, the ninth of the fifth month.
By these misfortunes, Elohim was giving a sign to his people that the land would be resting as He told the fathers whenever they walked in disobedience, as it is written in Lev 26:31-35,
And I shall scatter you among the gentiles and draw out a sword after you. And your land shall be desert and your cities ruins, and the land shall enjoy its Sabbaths as long as it lies waste, and you are in your enemies’ land. Then the land would rest and enjoy its Sabbaths. As long as it lies waste it rests, for the time it did not rest on your Sabbaths when you dwelt in it.
The original plan, according to the Sages, was to go like this: on the fifteenth of the first month, the people of Israel are taken out of Egypt under the leadership of Mosheh. After seven weeks of preparation and self-refinement, they receive the Torah, their mandate from YHVH as His nation of priests and set-apart people. Mosheh builds the Tabernacle to serve as the dwelling place of the Presence in the physical world and Israel implements the blueprint for life contained in the Torah. From Sinai it is an eleven-day journey to the land of Kana’an (Deu_1:1-2)—the land promised to Avraham, Yitzhak and Ya’akov as Israel’s eternal homeland.
That, however, was not what came to pass. Instead, the journey from Sinai to the land took not eleven days but thirty-eight years of wandering in the Arabian desert, which the present author calls the Arabian exile, shortly after the Egyptian exile. The generation of the Exodus became “the generation of the desert”—only two of the 600,000 adult males who left Egypt lived to enter the land of the promise: Yehoshua and Kalev.
So, what went wrong?
In Num 13:1-3 we are told that YHVH sent the twelve spies to scout the Land of Promise. Later in the Torah we see that it was not YHVH who thought to send “the spies” but the Israelites, as recorded in Deu 1:20-23. But were they sent “to spy” the Land? The Hebrew word “to spy” is leragel, and a spy is a meragel.
Interestingly, Mosheh never instructed the twelve to “leragel,” rather he told them to “latur,” to “explore.” Throughout the episode we read about their “exploring” the Land. What is the difference between to spy and to explore? Explorers merely “examine for the purpose of discovery,” while spies “observe secretively with hostile intent.”
So, Mosheh never instructed the twelves to spy; all he wanted was a factual report of what they would see. Whether or not the Land was conquerable or not was not an issue, they were not asked to provide an intelligence report regarding the feasibility of that task, but to bring a report to Mosheh of what they would find. For, after all, Elohim had promised them the Land, and would certainly ensure their victory in battle.
The sin of the ten spies was this little deviation from what they were told to do. What started as a mere subjective assessment of how they would militarily conquer the land, ended up in doubting the ability of the Almighty Himself to bring them in His land, the Kingdom of Elohim, the land of milk and honey. They failed to establish the Kingdom of Israel in the land. All due to the sin of the ten spies.
Remember that the Covenant which YHVH made with the patriarch Avraham was about giving the Land to him and his offspring, Israel. Ironically, the grand plan, over which Mosheh was to preside, was delayed and still awaits completion even today. All due to the sin of the ten spies.
May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days.