July 19, 2024
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Parshat Shelach

Over the years of studying this week’s haftarah, a selection taken from the second perek of Yehoshua, we have often compared the mission of the spies sent by Yehoshua to the mission sent by Moshe, as we read in the weekly parsha. Clearly, the different outcomes of the two missions led us to analyze the differences of the purpose and the goal of each mission.

But a very basic question remains unanswered, that being—why would Yehoshua even attempt to send spies at all? Having seen what took place years earlier and fully aware of the near-rebellion against the nation’s leadership resulting from the spies’ false report … Why would Yehoshua have taken the risk of sending spies once again? Additionally, Moshe sent his agents at Hashem’s command (“al pi Hashem”)—whether by direct order or through His reluctant acquiescence to the people’s desire. Yet, we read of no divine command given to Yehoshua—nor even the leader’s request for God’s permission! So, what was the purpose of “spy-sending?”

What would it accomplish? And why take the risk?

It would seem that the difference between the respective missions strengthened Yehoshua’s belief that his agents would not sin—as did those of Moshe. Whereas his teacher and mentor instructed the spies to report on the relative fortifications and strength, Yehoshua told his emissaries to “see the land and Yericho”—requiring no military information that could be exaggerated or falsified. And, while Moshe’s well-known agents (leaders of their respective tribes) were sent publicly and reported their findings before the entire nation, Yehoshua’s anonymous spies left on the mission secretly and returned in the same way—reporting to Yehoshua alone. By doing so, Yehoshua prevented a possible massive panic from spreading throughout the nation, as did his decision to send but only two individuals to carry out his bidding—further ensuring that the mission remained unknown to the masses.

All these reasons are valid and contribute to the confidence that Yehoshua felt in sending spies. But I believe there is a far more essential reason as to why he had little doubt in the success of his mission.

We naturally tend to compare these two spy-stories with each other, forgetting that there was a 39-year gap between the two! There were different leaders, different spies and different missions. More importantly, these events involved two very different generations. In the passing years, Israel had fought and defeated, the Canaanites in the area of Arad (B’Midbar 21: 1-3), they fought and conquered the powerful Amorite states—one led by Sichon and one by Og—and they took over their land (ibid: 24-25; 35). Perhaps, even more importantly, we must recall an essential truth of which many of us tend to forget or, perhaps, never knew: “Vayishlach Moshe l’ragel et Yazer—And Moshe sent (men) to spy out Yazer … ” (ibid: 32). Yes! Moshe himself sent another contingent of spies—and they were successful! And, significantly, these battles, these victories and this spy mission all took place in the final year in the desert!

In effect, therefore, Yehoshua’s decision to send spies into Eretz Canaan was neither rash nor risky. He had much to rely upon: a young generation ready and willing to conquer their promised land, a tried and true army that had just recently scored victories over powerful enemies and a nation fully faithful to the divine promises that had already begun to be fulfilled.

Yehoshua needed no command or “permission” from Hashem to send spies. On the contrary, his deep belief in God’s promises made it a simple decision, and it proved to the entire nation that Hashem’s word stands true for all time.

With faith in God and courage to face the enemy, success could be insured … both then and now!


Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel of Fort Lee, and now lives in Israel.

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