Posted on August 4, 2022 (5782) By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

All of you approached me and said, “Let us send men ahead of us, and let them spy out the Land.”[2]

Much of the beginning of Chumash Devarim is devoted to Moshe’s recapitulation of the events of the previous forty years, just before his death. We need to look for the subtleties in his words in order to gain the deeper understanding of those events. In this case, Rashi makes it easy with a one-word commentary: b’irvuvia/in disarray. This pithy characterization of their behavior adds layers of meaning to our understanding of the chet ha-meraglim/sin of the spies.

As Ramban points out, we are at first blush reluctant to call out the people for requesting that Moshe send out a reconnaissance team. After all, Moshe went along with the suggestion. Neither did Yehoshua object. The request itself made eminent sense. It is a mitzvah to reduce reliance on Divine miracles. It therefore made sense that they should have prepared themselves for battle in the manner of all armies. They needed intelligence about the places in the Land most vulnerable to attack. (This was important even if they fully expected that Hashem would fight their battles for them. It would be appropriate for them to make all those preparations so that they would attribute their success nonetheless to His assistance, rather than their military prowess, and thus more fully appreciate what He did for them.)

Moreover, no sooner than Moshe named the twelve spies, he offered a special brachah to Yehoshua. Calev as well realized that he was in danger, and hurried to the Machpelah cave to daven. If danger was imminent, why did Moshe send them in the first place?

The answer is in Rashi’s single word, b’irvuvia. If the intentions of the people had been as Ramban posits, they would not have come as a chaotic mob. They would not have acted so hastily, but waited for Moshe to come to the same realization that spies should be sent. Their haste betrayed a sense of fear. That fear could only come from inadequate trust in Hashem.

That left them vulnerable. Moshe realized that their request in a state of disarray – with the young pushing ahead of the old – created an opening for the Soton. Give him a foothold, and there is no telling how things could spin out of control. Even Yehoshua and Calev could be drawn in. When the Soton is given permission to destroy, all are endangered. Yehoshua received Moshe’s brachah; Calev hastened to Chevron. But Soton had found a place to begin his mischief. The people had acted with too much passion, and too little deliberation. They gave up on order, and Soton led them to a dis-ordered chain of events. The spies would abandon all that is right in the interests of holding on to their titles and distinction. They came back with a biased report. A dejected people turned their backs on a choice Land, and signed their death warrants thereby. All this was the result of their disarray, of acting without order. Had they respected the need for calm deliberation and order, the chet ha-meraglim would not have occurred.

Another point. Because of their disarray and lack of order, they allowed both passion and fear to take hold of them. Chazal[3] tell us that it was their inappropriate crying the night after hearing the report of the spies that ensured that there would be crying in the future surrounding the destruction of the Temples. Their crying denoted a deeply emotional, passionate involvement with their sin. An aveirah done with passion is far worse than one done in a detached manner. (An allusion to this can be found in the tumah associated with neveilah. One who merely touches it does not require immersion of the clothing he wears. One who carries it, i.e. who has a closer connection to it – must immerse his garments.)

The take-away: A person cannot follow the natural inclination of his thoughts. He has to pause and take control, directing his thoughts only to the Will of Heaven.

  1. Based on Daas Torah by Rav Yeruchem Levovitz zt”l, Devarim pgs. 88-89
  2. Devarim 1:22
  3. Taanis 29a