A few disconnected and connected thoughts. Think of it as a work in
Note 1. The difference between the sin of the Egel (golden calf) when the
generation was not punished with death and the Miraglim (spies) when the
generation was consigned to die in the desert is that idolatry (the Egel)
is a means
for rationalizing Tayvah (desire). Tayvah was the basic sin of Adam and
which is why there is the association between Matan Torah (giving of the
Torah), Pre-Gan Eden, and the Egel. The realities of Tayvah are that it is
intrinsic to the human condition. As such, there was no need for that
die out; instead, they had to be given the tools to combat their intrinsic
Inclination. (Not to suggest that "basic, primal, desires" are
evil. Just the opposite! However, when Tayvah is used in opposition to G-
law it is the tool of the Evil Inclination.) Therefore, G-d gave them
(the chance to repent) and the Mishkan. It was a lesson in the realities
life - we sin and we repent.
On the other hand, the Miraglim sinned with a lack of Emunah (faith).
is not a product of Tayvah. Where Tayvah is a lack of discipline and
self-control, Emunah questions the essence of G-d's reality.
(See the third Ani Mammin that establishes G-d as non-corporal and
There is nothing that G-d cannot do.)
Note 2. G-d is a Kol Yachol (able to do everything). As such, having faith
Him is the minimum that G-d had a right to expect from us after all He had
revealed during and after the Exodus. (See Darash Moshe where my
l explains why after all the miracles and because of all the miracles, the
Miraglim and the nation could question G-d’s ability to take the 31 city-
Note 3. Even if we attribute positive motives to the report of the
their lack of Emunah allowed them to think that they knew better than G-d.
(Prelude to Korach) Bottom line is that they should have trusted G-d that
exactly what He was doing and that their responsibility was to model total
trust and faith. Had they come back with the same facts about giants and
fortified cities, but enthused and optimistic about the future, all of
have been different.
Note 4. The ability to sin always involves a lack of Emunah; however,
functions as a rationalization for going against G-d. More honestly
grants us the permission to do what we want to do and ignore what G-d
Most of us are not comfortable thinking that we are going against G-d. We
would rather convince ourselves that we are only doing what we want to do
that we are too weak to resist. On the other hand, the sin of the Miraglim
founded upon a lack of faith not because they wanted to do something
prohibited; rather, it revealed a true lack of understanding or acceptance
the absolute dominion of G-d and the absolute subjugation of will that is
demanded of us.
Note 5. The reasons for not having faith are many. For some it is a
of Tayvah – they are the easy ones. Rav Dessler presents a strategy for
battling the challenges of Tayvah. He points out that the Yetzer Harah’s
inclination) strategy does not start with a ideological confrontation.
Evil Inclination starts by awakening our desire to do whatever we are
restricted from doing. The proper defense at that moment is to appear to
give in to
the Yetzer a little. (Similar to dieting. It is difficult to deny all
pleasures. That is why systems of controlled cheating or rewards are very
successful.) Delaying the gratification till later or replacing the
with a permitted one can do this.
For example, if while learning Torah the Yetzer tires to distract us by
diverting our attention to other activities, tell yourself that as soon as
finish learning you will do the other thing that the Yetzer is pushing.
chances are that by the time the learning is over and the “immediate urge”
have passed, the individual will have grounded himself within the norms of
life and be able to withstand the Yetzer’s push.
The reason this strategy works is because the Yetzer works through
The immediate urge imposes itself at that moment as the single most
thing. It dominates our thoughts and captures our hearts. However, the
is that the Yetzer simply diverted our judicial sense of discernment away
deciding between right and wrong and focused us on the very transient
fulfillment of some desire or other. Once the moment has passed and we
have been able
to fight back with our own deceptive illusion, we have the chance to catch
ethical breaths and see the desire for the illusion that it was.
Note 6. The truth is that there is no external Yetzer. The Yetzer is one
or the other of the freewill coin that G-d gifted us with and set us apart
from all other creations. If we can fool ourselves into thinking that
truly unimportant is important we can also fool ourselves into believing
the fulfillment of that desire can wait until after we finish the page of
Gemara or the help we are giving to someone else. By that time the first
illusion will have dissipated and we are back to thinking clearly and
As a simple illustration, ask yourself the following question. You rented
show that you have really wanted to see. It does not have to be returned
video store for a week. How many of us will easily turn off the show -
without any reluctance - to go to minyan, do homework with a child, spend
a spouse, write a check to a needy stranger at the door, or simply go to
sleep? Why do we struggle? Why the sense of "But I want to watch it now?"
urgency? It is all an illusion. It is the Yetzer Harah weaving his magical
equation of "I want it; I need it; I must have it now!"
Note 7. With the Miraglim there were two parties to the Yetzer’s deception
to whether or not we would be able to take Israel from the 31 nations
occupying it at that time. The first were the spies themselves; the second
nation. The spies themselves were too great to fall into a simple
instead they sinned on the sophisticated level of having lost faith in G-
did not know it at the time but they were motivated by lost faith.
(Gleaned from Rabbi’s Notebook 2003 with some modifications and additions.)
I would like to suggest that the Miraglim saw the Promised Land as certain
death and destruction for the nation. In analyzing the findings of their
mission, the Spies predicted a difficult campaign to take the land. They
had seen the
great, fortified, cities inhabited by legendary warriors and they feared
the Jews would have to do battle against its inhabitants.
The Spies may have understood the need to battle for the land as a
stage for reintegrating the nation into the norms of life. Two years of
miraculous existence in the desert was not the intended reality for the
intended reality for the nation was to model for the world how to weave
and service into the daily fabric of life and living. To do so the Jews
have to stop eating Manna and stop depending on point-guards of clouds and
fire. They would have to act out the norms of invasion and victory by
spies, gathering information, planning a strategy, executing a plan, while
and accepting that every victory along the way was solely the result of
The land of Israel was a “land that consumed its inhabitants.” Only the
strong in body and spirit could survive the demands and challenges of the
Land. Since the exodus from Egypt the Jews had gained a degree of trust in
themselves and G-d – but only because of G-d’s overt, miraculous,
To inherit and keep the Promised Land the Jews would have to take the
of the Exodus (G-d’s overt intervention) and find His ever-present
benevolence behind the façade of nature. The process of transitioning from
intervention to His hidden intervention would challenge the courage and
of the Jewish people. The Spies feared that the nation was not ready to
The Spies were afraid that the Jews would not be able to handle the
inevitable difficulties of war and occupation. They feared that in the
would loose faith in G-d and His chosen leaders. They feared that because
the miraculous interventions that had happened during and after the Exodus
G-d would not forgive the people for loosing faith and the land of Israel
be taken away from them! At that juncture of history G-d would have every
reason to expect that the Jews would fully trust Him and His promise to
the land of their Forefathers. If at that stage the nation would loose
in G-d because of the seemingly overwhelming opposition and strength of
seven Canaanite nations, it would prove that they were not deserving of
inheriting the land. Instead, the Miraglim decided to deliberately
faith and test its potential weakness. Rather the deficiency be exposed
protected confines of the desert than discover the weakness after crossing
over the Yarden! Rather confront their faith while G-d was overtly
their faith could be strengthened or rebuilt than hope to strengthen them
G-d slipped back behind the veil of natural law.
However, something went terribly wrong. The Miraglim were not honest about
their own weaknesses and deficiencies. They had not confronted their true
motives for accepting the mission and their true motives for presenting
in such a demoralizing way. Once they began their report it became evident
that they believed their own report. They truly believed that they were
incapable of overcome the challenging odds they had encountered!
(13:13) “We felt
tiny grasshoppers!” Their report revealed their own loss of faith if G-d
rather than being a mere strategy for exposing the nation’s weaknesses and
The greatest tragedy of all is that the Miraglim succeeded in creating a
self-fulfilling prophecy. Had they returned full of enthusiasm and
did Kalev) they would have strengthened the faith of the nation and
that the Jews would never again suffer exile and persecution. They would
guaranteed the beginning of the messianic era! Instead they demoralized
nation and caused them to loose faith in G-d and themselves. In the end
delayed the messianic era and caused the demise of an entire generation!
As we near the month of Tamuz and the confrontation over Gush Katif let us
pray for the strength to clearly see G-d’s never-ending benevolence and
ceaseless protection of our nation and land. We must not be afraid. It is
our land and
only our land. Let us pray for the strength to have faith in the words of
Kalev and Yehoshua, (13: 7-9) “The land through which we passed is a very
land. G-d can give it to us… Do not be afraid of the people of the land!
have lost their protection… G-d is with us, do not be afraid!”
Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Torah.org
The author is the Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley
Village, CA, and Assistant Principal of YULA.