סדר שלח

וראיתם את הארץ מה הוא

And see the land, what it is 

Numbers 13:18

Rashi comments: There are countries which raise strong people and there are countries which raise weak people.

According to Rashi’s comment, the end of the verse clarifies the beginning. Whether the people dwelling on the land are strong or weak indicates the quality of the land and whether the land raises mighty inhabitants or weak ones. The Scripture then mentions an indication from which to infer the strength of the inhabitants: whether they dwell in camps or in strongholds.

Rashi explained this well, because each verse begins with words “ומה הארץ” (and what the land is).

From here one can infer that Moses sent the spies only to report that the land that they would inherit was a beautiful estate — so that they should desire to settle upon it because of its productivity and goodness — for hearing about the land is obviously not the same as seeing it with their own eyes. But he did not send the spies to judge whether they would be able to drive out the inhabitants and take possession of the land, because that would have demonstrated a lack of faith in the Eternal Who had already promised to bring them into the land.

We can therefore understand the guilt of the spies and the magnitude of their sin in having changed their mission from just inspecting the land to that of determining whether it would be possible to take it away from the Emorites. And in so doing, they transformed a desirable quality of the land — that its inhabitants were healthy, strong and mighty — into an undesirable one, arguing that the Israelites would be unable to stand up to its inhabitants who were stronger than the Israelites and because even the Eternal was not strong enough to displace them.

Understood in this light, how appropriate are the words of the Sages on the verse (Numbers 13:16) “ויקרא משה להושע בן נון יהושע” (and Moses called Hosea bin Nun Joshua) that Moses called his student Joshua as if to say “י-ה יושעך מעצת מרגלים” ) may God save you from the advice of the spies(. Many have wondered why Moses did not also pray on behalf of Caleb, and many pens have been broken on this point.

However, according to our master it is properly explained, for Joshua also sent spies to gather intelligence about how to conquer the land (see the Malbim who proves from the Scripture the difference between the spies (תרים) that Moses sent and the spies (מרגלים) that Joshua sent before entering the land 40 years later. The תרים go to see whether the land is good or bad, while the מרגלים go to find the secrets of the land, where the most vulnerable point of attack is.

Nor is there any mystery why Joshua thought it proper to risk the same mishap that occurred with the spies of Moses, Joshua having been motivated by a different idea from that of Moses. In sending spies, Joshua was simply following the normal practice of the world. Although one should believe, and place his trust, in the Eternal, one should, nevertheless, act in all things in accordance with the ordinary way of the world, conducting himself according to the laws of nature without anticipating or relying on miracles, because it is preferable to minimize miracles “למעט בניסא עדיף”. Therefore, when Joshua approached the Promised Land, he sent spies only to determine how to wage war against it, not to determine if it would be possible to conquer the land.

However, when Moses sent men to assess the land, the time had not yet come to conquer it. He only wanted to know how good the land was. But, those spies instead went out to search it to assess whether conquest was even possible, thereby showing the weakness of their faith in the Eternal, bringing contempt and wrath in abundance upon themselves and the people.

This is why Moses prayed for God to save Joshua from the counsel of the spies, meaning that when Joshua would send his own spies, he should not do so with the same intention that Moses had sent his spies, whereby doubt was created in the promise of the Eternal. Rather they should only search out the best path by which to reach the ultimate goal of conquering the land in the normal course of events. (שביבי אש)

ויאמר ה’ אל משה מות יומת האיש רגום אתו באבנים וכו’ וירגמו אתו באבנים וימת כאשר צוה ה’ את משה

And the Eternal said to Moses, The man shall be surely put to death . . . and they stoned him with stones, and he died; as the Lord commanded Moses. 

Numbers 15:35-36

One may ask: First, why did the Scripture write “מות יומת האיש” (the man shall be put to death) and then “רגום אתו באבנים כל-העדה” (all the congregation shall stone him with stones) which seems redundant. Even according to Rashi, who explains that they knew that he was deserving of the death penalty, but not the method of execution, there is still a redundancy. See the derivation of the Sifri from this repetition.

Second, why is the infinitive form “רָגוֹם” used, which Rashi comares to “שָמוֹר” (to keep) and “זָכוֹר” (to remember). What was the reason for using the infinitive form instead of the imperative form “רְגוֹם”?

Third, the Scripture writes, “וירגּמו אתו באבנים וימת כאשר צוה ה’” (and they stoned him and he died as the Lord commanded), but it would have been more appropriate to write “וירגמו אתו באבנים וימת כאשר צוה ה’” (and they stoned him as the Lord commanded, and he died).

And our master explains this according to the Midrash (mentioned in the Tosafot, Bava Batra 119b ד.ה. אפילו) which says that the one who gathered sticks did so for the sake of Heaven, our forefathers in the desert having been misguided believing that once the Eternal had decreed that they would die and be buried in the desert, there was no point in observing His commandments. What would they gain by doing so? The gatherer of sticks therefore sacrificed his own life to show them that the word of God must always be followed even by them. According to the Midrash, we can assume that the Eternal, knowing that this exalted man resolved to sacrifice his life and accept death in order to sanctify God’s name, must have gathered this pure spirit unto Himself. Thus, the gatherer of sticks expired and died before his body was shattered by stones, so that a righteous person such as he was would not suffer the cruel pain, more terrible than death, of being stoned. The whole procedure of stoning was performed not to cause the death of the man, but only to be witnessed by the people, so that they should not continue to be sinful.

That is why the Eternal told Moses “מות יומת האיש” (the man shall be put to death). This man who is sufficiently exalted to be referred to as “האיש” will die before being stoned. Then the Scripture says “רָגוֹם”, which is in the infinitive form, to show that he will die first in order that he may be stoned without suffering. The Scripture then tells us that that is what happened, and then “וירגמו אתו באבנים” (the whole congregation stoned him). However, “ויּמת כאשר צוה ה’ את משה” )he died as the Lord commanded Moses), his spirit having already been entrusted to “א-להי הרוחות לכל בשר” (the God of the spirits of all flesh) before being stoned. (שביבי אש)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s