May 13, 2024
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The Meraglim in Sefer Devarim and Sefer Bamidbar

Expected Contradictions

We are not surprised to find the meraglim story presented differently in sefer Devarim than in sefer Bamidbar. After all, there would be no purpose in presenting it the same way in Devarim.

 

Four Differences

The following are three of the most prominent differences in the stories: 1) Bamidbar lists the name of spies (which is odd to do for spies), while Devarim does not. 2) In Bamidbar, the mission is initiated by Hashem, and in Devarim, it is our idea. 3) Bamidbar never describes the people sent as spies—they are “anashim,” just checking out Eretz Yisrael. Sefer Devarim, by contrast, describes them as spies. 4) In Bamidbar, they are supposed to see if Eretz Yisrael is good or bad: ומה הארץ הטובה היא אם רעה. In Devarim, the mission is to obtain military information about the land: ויחפרו את הארץ.

 

Two Different Missions

The basic difference is that sefer Devarim describes a military mission. Therefore, it designates them as spies and does not list their names. By contrast, the task in sefer Bamidbar is touring (לתור את הארץ), to excite our nation about Eretz Yisrael.

 

Methodology to Resolve The Contradictions

Chazal often apply the principle of דברי תורה עניים במקום אחד ועשירים במקום אחר  (Yerushalmi, Rosh Hashanah 3:5) that “the words of Torah are poor in one place, but rich in another.” This phrase means that the Torah, sometimes, does not present the full story in one place. Instead, we must combine the two stories recorded in different places to get the full picture.

We find a classic example of this method in Ta’anit 29a. This Gemara notes that sefer Melachim records Churban Bayit Rishon as occurring on the seventh of Av. Sefer Yirmiyahu—on the other hand—says it took place on the 10th of Av. The Gemara explains that each sefer relates part of the story. The Romans broke into the Mikdash on the seventh, trashed it for the next three days, and, at the end of the ninth, they lit it on fire and it burnt down on the 10th.

 

Resolving the Contradictions

In our case, Hashem wanted the mission to be a tourist mission/hype mission. However, we added a military aspect. We didn’t reject Hashem’s mission—we added to it and mixed the tasks. Hashem gave us a good plan. Unfortunately, we ruined it by adding to it, thinking we could improve on Hashem’s directive.

There is nothing wrong with hype or military mission. The mistake was combining two incompatible tasks. It is similar to meat and milk or wool and linen. Each component independently is fine. Combining these two discordant items, though, is catastrophic.

The disaster plays out in Bamidbar 13:27-29. At first, all is fine when they report to the nation that Eretz Yisrael is very beautiful. Then, however, disaster struck when they shared their military assessment with the nation that we could not conquer the land. Panic set in, we refused to go and we wound up confined to the midbar until the 40th year post-yetziat Mitzrayim.

 

Moshe Rabbeinu and Yehoshua Correcting the Mistake

Moshe sends spies in parshat Chukat, and Yehoshua sends spies in Yehoshua, perek 2. Both missions work out perfectly since these times, we do not conflate two incompatible missions together.

 

Conclusion: Learning From The Mission Failure

We read Yehoshua, perek 2, as the haftarah for parshat Shelach. The haftarah records our learning from our mistakes and not repeating them. The message is to do the same. The fiascos recorded in Tanach summon us to study the cause of failure and learn not to repeat the mistake.


Rabbi Jachter serves as the rav of Congregation Shaarei Orah, a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a get administrator on the beth din of Elizabeth. His 16 books are available at Amazon and Judaica House.

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