Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The real sin of the spies

In this week's parsha we have the sin of the spies: Ten of the twelve spies sent to survey the land of Israel come back with an evil report and the entire generation is condemned to die in the desert.

How could this have happened? "All of them were men of distinction; they were the heads of the children of Israel.." (Bamidbar 13:3). "At that time, they were virtuous." (Rashi to the same verse quoting midrash Tanchuma.) These were the gedolim of the day!

Rabbi Dr. Aaron Adler gives us the answer:


Key section:

The Talmud (Sotah 14a) records: Why did Moshe desire to enter the Landof Israel? Was it the fruit of the Land? Not at all, respond our Sages. A simple calculation of Mitzvot indicated that many many Mitzvot are obligatory only in the Eretz Yisrael. Moshe longed for the opportunity for maximum fulfillment of the Mitzvot.

The dor hamidbar formed the largest kollel in history. There was nothing else to do except to study Torah. But the Torah is not just to be studied, it is to be lived! Angels can study Torah, but the famous disputation recorded in Shabat 68b over whether the Torah belongs in heaven or on the earth ends with HaShem ruling for Moshe and the Torah was given to the Jewish people. The Torah elevates our mundane activites like eating, working, and even having sex to holy levels through the commandments. By accepting the evil reports of the ten spies, dor hamidbar implicitly rejected all the commandments associated with Eretz Yisrael, along with the many commandments related to working and preparing sustenance that are in effect everywhere.

While some died shortly after the decree was given, it took almost 40 years for the dor hamidbar to live out their natural lives. This shows that the condemnation to death wasn't so much as a penalty as it was HaShem's realization that the members of the dor hamidbar -- and in particular, ten or the twelve gedolim of that generation -- were not up to the task of establishing the society that the Torah commanded.


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