OzTorah: Torah reading – Sh’lach L’cha




Moses sent twelve spies to check out the land before entering and settling it. Not that God commanded the investigation: He told Moses,

“Send spies if that is what you desire”.

The story of what happened is well known. Apart from Joshua and Caleb, ten of the twelve spies came back with a pessimistic report, and the tragic consequences caused a long delay before the people’s final entry to the land.

Yet lo and behold, when the entry to the land was imminent, the new leader, Joshua, sent a fresh investigating team. How could he do such a thing when he must have had vivid memories of the disaster that the spies has caused in Moses’ time?

The 19th century commentator, Malbim, says there were several differences between the two investigations. Moses’ spies were sent at the request of the people and reported back to them; Joshua commissioned his team on his own without the people’s involvement. Moses’ investigation took place long before the people were near Eretz Yisra’el and the people didn’t completely understand what was going on. Moses sent spies to check *whether* the land could be conquered; Joshua sent spies to ascertain *how* it could be conquered.

Moses’ investigation was dramatic and the spies set off with public fanfare; Joshua’s representatives went quietly without a fuss.


The sidra tells a story which cries out for explanation. One Shabbat, an Israelite was found collecting wood. He was brought to Moses and temporarily put in prison until the Almighty gave the people a ruling.

Obviously the law against transgressing Shabbat was already well established, but what Moses did not know was the details of the punishment.  This was one of four cases in which Moses had to admit,

“I do not know what to do”.

One might have thought he deserved credit for deciding that the answer had to come from God Himself. But the Midrash says that God had to teach Moses a lesson. Moses had told the people that when anything difficult arose, they should bring it to him. God felt that Moses was being egotistical. A good leader should have said,

“If anything major arises, report it to me and I will ask God”.

God therefore had to warn Moses not to give himself airs.

Who was the man whose action caused the uproar? The Midrash suggests that it was Tzelof’chad, whose daughters complained that their father died without leaving a son; they claimed that in such circumstances they should inherit.  They said that their father died “because of his own sin”, not because of any national disloyalty such as Korach’s rebellion.



The twelve spies – the fact-finding mission that Moses sent to check out the land of Canaan – came back with a majority pessimistic report, and a minority report that was sure the land was conquerable. The minority report was by Joshua and Caleb. But though colleagues in optimism, they were, as the sages did not fail to notice, quite different in approach.

The Chafetz Chayyim lists three differences:
1. Moses prayed for Joshua (Y’hoshua), previously called Hoshea, and said, “HaShem yoshi’acha” – a play on the name Y’hoshua – “May God deliver you from the counsel of the spies” (Num. 13:16 and Rashi).
2. Caleb alone went to pray at Hebron, the burial place of the patriarchs (Rashi on Num. 13:22).
3. Caleb alone is said to have had “another spirit within him” (Num. 14:24).

The Chafetz Chayyim believes Moses suspected from the beginning that ten spies would, for their own reasons, argue that the land could not be conquered, a view that showed a lack of faith in God who had promised the land to the people. He also knew that there are two ways of dealing with wrong-minded movements, and Joshua and Caleb would each choose a different way.

The outstanding sight of Hebron is undoubtedly The Sanctuary of Abraham , or Tomb of the Patriarchs, a heavy rectangular building that encloses the Cave of Machphelah; where the Patriarchs Abraham , Isaac , Jacob & their wives are buried & the place of David’s anointment .

What are the two ways? You can either strongly and openly oppose their schemes and risk being victimised, or you can pretend to go along with them and work against them later once you seem to have their confidence. Joshua would choose the first way, but this would place him in danger and he needed protection. Caleb would follow the second path, but first needed a quiet visit to Hebron to strengthen his nerves and his resolve. He had “a different spirit” in that though outwardly he let the others think he was with them, inside he maintained his opposition and was waiting for the right moment to act.


Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, and was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesperson for Jews and Judaism on the Australian continent. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem. Rabbi Apple blogs at http://www.oztorah.com

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