Vol 18.16 - Shlach 1                       Spanish French Audio  Video

Hebrew Text:

Page141   Page142   Page143   Page144   Page145   Page146   Page147   Page148   Page149  

(5740) Rashi (Num.13:1) "Send for yourself men"
Miriam’s mistake was not of intentional slander, but her speaking openly about sensitive issues that might be misunderstood. The Spies did not learn from this incident and also spoke openly about their concerns



Send for yourself men: Why is the section dealing with the spies juxtaposed with the section dealing with Miriam? Because she was punished over matters of slander, for speaking against her brother, and these wicked people witnessed it, but did not learn their lesson. — Midrash Tanchuma Shelach 5


Why does the story of the spies appear here? (v. 13:1ff)

Rashi: Why does the section dealing with the spies follow the section dealing with Miriam? Because she was punished for being preoccupied with speech, for speaking about her brother, and these wicked people saw what happened to her but did not learn a lesson.

Miriam and the Spies (Rashi v. 1)

In his comment on verse 1, Rashi explains why the Torah places the section dealing with the sin of the spies immediately after the account of Miriam’s sin. This prompts the following questions:

  1. The spies were sent out on the 29th of Sivan (Rashi on Devarim 1:2), immediately after Miriam’s period of quarantine was complete, on the 28th of Sivan 1 So why does Rashi ask, “Why does the section dealing with the spies follow the section dealing with Miriam”? Surely, the reason is obvious, because one event occurred straight after the other.
  2. Why does Rashi write that Miriam was “punished over matters of speech,” and not simply, “punished for loshon hara (slander)”?

The Explanation

Rashi was not troubled here by a specific problem with our verse, but rather, with a general question regarding the sin of the spies, at the literal level. And this question can be answered, explains Rashi, through understanding why the sin of the spies is recorded immediately after the sin of Miriam.

(Of course, the reader will only have this question after reading the entire section dealing with the spies, and not here at the beginning of the parshah. Nevertheless, Rashi chose to address the matter here, because it is here that the solution is to be found. )

Rashi was troubled by the general question: What sin did the spies commit? They were commissioned to explore the Land and report what they saw, and that is precisely what they did. Even when they reported that the inhabitants of the Land of Israel were extremely powerful, and they could not imagine how the battle could be won, they were telling the truth, as we see from the fact that they were not accused by Calev of lying. 2 Why, then, were they punished?

Rashi answers that this matter can be clarified by addressing another question: “Why does the section dealing with the spies follow the section dealing with Miriam?”

Although the sin of the spies followed immediately after Miriam’s sin—which is a good reason for one to follow the other in Torah—in this case, however, it would have been more appropriate to record some other event between them. For by describing two sins of a similar nature one after the other, the reader may be left with the impression that Miriam’s sin was similar in severity to the sin of the spies (and she only received a lesser punishment because she did not cause others to sin too). So Rashi asks: “Why does the section dealing with the spies follow the section dealing with Miriam,” when there is no comparison between the severity of these two sins?

Rashi answers: “Because she was punished for being preoccupied with speech, for speaking about her brother, and these wicked people saw what happened to her, but did not learn a lesson.” In other words, while it is true that “these wicked people” committed a sin of immense proportions, whereas Miriam’s oversight was relatively minor, nevertheless, the Torah records both of them together to explain why the spies’ sin was indeed so severe—because they should have learned a lesson from Miriam. While the two sins differed greatly in gravity, they did represent a similar mistake of judgment; so having witnessed Miriam’s sin, and her subsequent punishment, the spies were tremendously irresponsible in allowing themselves to repeat a similar mistake.

What was Miriam’s sin? It was not speaking badly of Moshe, for Rashi writes explicitly, “She did not intend to speak negatively about him” (Rashi to Bamidbar 12:1). Rather, her mistake was, as Rashi writes here, “she was punished for being preoccupied with speech.” If Miriam could not understand why Moshe had separated from his wife, she should have asked him, and not discussed the matter openly with others. Thus, her “sin” was not an intentional slander of Moshe, but something much more subtle: Her willingness to speak openly about sensitive issues that are prone to be misunderstood.

And this too, was the sin of the spies. They did not intend to disparage the Land of Israel, and they had a valid concern regarding how the Land was to be conquered. Their mistake was that they did not express their concerns privately to Moshe, but rather aired them in public, thus providing the “fuel” for a major rebellion. And this was a particularly grave error, being that they had seen Miriam commit an identical mistake immediately before their mission began. Thus their punishment, explains Rashi, was severe because they “saw what happened to her, but did not learn a lesson. ”

(Based on Likutei Sichos vol. 18, p. 141ff.)


1. The departure from Mount Sinai took place on the 20th of Iyar (Bamidbar 10:11, and Rashi ibid.). The journey to Kivros Hata’avah took one day (Rashi ibid. v. 33), so they would have arrived that night, on the eve of the 21st of Iyar. They remained there for 30 days (Rashi on Devarim 1:2). They would thus have departed Kivros Hata’avah on the 21st of Sivan, and arrived in Chatzairos (Bamidbar 11:35) that evening, on the eve of the 22nd of Sivan. Miriam then slandered Moshe, and she was quarantined for seven days (including the 22nd), taking them to the morning of the 28th. They departed immediately, and would have arrived in the desert of Paran that evening, on the 29th of Sivan. Thus, since Rashi writes that the spies were sent on the 29th of Sivan (Devarim 1:2), it follows that they were sent straight after Miriam’s quarantine, probably on the morning of the 29th (Likutei Sichos vol. 19, p. 1, note 6).

2. At first glance, their sin appears to have been their conclusion that the conquest of the Land was not possible: “We are unable to go up against the people, for they are stronger than us” (v. 31), for the spies were commissioned to gather information, and not to decide whether the conquest was possible or not. However, while this is an acceptable explanation at the homiletic level, at the literal level it could be argued that even the conclusion of the spies was not a sin. For the purpose of their mission was, ultimately, to assess the feasibility (without miracles) of conquering the Land, and in all likelihood it was indeed true that the conquest was impossible in the natural order.






 Date Delivered:   Reviewer:       
Date Modified:    Date Reviewed: