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(5748) Rashi (Num. 13:15): Resolution of the contradiction in Rashi whether the Spies were were virtuous at the time they were sent, or not. Boundary of the "counsel of the spies"
At the time of the mission directive, Moshe told the 12 men "l'Tur" , to gather information; however, the 10 spies chose to "l'Ragel", to spy, in order to devise strategies of conquest and give advise; thus, they nullified their mission, becoming the M'raglim (Spies)

Moshe’s way is Emes; Yehoshua and Calev remained true to Moshe and continued to be Shluchim



1. In Rashi’s explanation, in our Parsha, regarding the spies, we find contradictions regarding their status during their mission:

In the beginning of the Parsha on the verse (Num. 13:3) it states,

“All of them were men of distinction”

and Rashi explains,

"At that time, they were virtuous”

Yet further on the verse (15:15):

“and Moshe called Hoshea the son of Nun, Yehoshua”

Rashi explains:

“He (Moshe) prayed on his behalf, “May G-d save you from the counsel of the spies.”

From this, it implies that Moshe had already sensed the wickedness of the spies.

This is also explained by Rashi on the verse,

"And they went and they came to Moshe" – “Just as their return was with evil intent, so was their departure (on the journey) with evil intent”

To resolve the contradiction in Rashi from the verse,

”they went and they came to Moshe”

the commentators have already explained that this is the meaning of Rashi’s precise wording before that,

"and at that time they were virtuous".

In other words, only at the time they were chosen and appointed as "were they virtuous" - "to exclude after that time when they held onto the path ("they went"), and were transformed and became wicked.

However, this does not resolve that which Rashi says that, “Moshe prayed on behalf of his disciple Yehoshua, "May G-d save you from the counsel of the spies".

For this was at “that time" that they were chosen, before they began their journey on the way?

There are commentators who state that, "immediately after they were chosen" they were no longer virtuous. They explain that,

“In the beginning they were virtuous, and Moshe commanded them on the mission according to G-d, to see the how easy it is to conquer (the Land). Yet the evil inclination flashed through them, and they returned to Moshe to give them signs in the land, whether it is good or bad, strong or weak, and whether the towns were fortressed. Moshe then sensed that their intention was evil. For why did they need to investigate more than they were commanded?  Therefore, it says, “And Moshe called Yehoshua”. For when he sensed in them the evil inclination, he prayed for Yehoshua".

However, this interpretation requires examination:

  1. It is very difficult to say that Rashi's intention in writing, “At that time, they were virtuous” was

just that they were virtuous for only a very short period of time - from the time of the appointment until “they returned to Moshe to give them signs of the land”.

(For plainly, not that much time elapsed between their appointment, to the time of Moshe’s words to them, “Go up this way in the south . . and see the land”)

  1. According to their explanation, (Rashi) should have stated, “at the time they were appointed, they were virtuous”, and so forth.
  2. Mainly: If "Moshe sensed that their intent was for evil" - why was he set on choosing to send these spies; and not send others instead of them in order that their intent not be 'evil' (for certainly this was in Moshe’s hands)

(That which is explained in the commentators

(the reason that Moshe prayed for Yehoshua to be delivered,”from the counsel of the spies" yet he did not prevent him from going with them)

that Moshe thought perhaps Yehoshua and Calev would be able to reverse the spies evil thoughts - does not resolve this question. For how could he engender harm to all Bnei Yisroel, on the doubtful possibility that Calev would transform them to good! Especially when he did not have to send them, at all?)

2. Seemingly, one may ask a similar question on the general matter of sending the spies. For according to Rashi, already at the beginning of the matter, Moshe knew that it was not a desirable thing, and yet he did not refrain from sending them.

On the verse,

“Send out for yourself men”

Rashi explains,

“Send for yourself: According to your own understanding. I am not commanding you, but if you wish, you may send. Since Bnei Yisroel had come (to Moshe) and said, “Let us send men ahead of us,”. . He (G-d) said, “I told them that it is good . . By their lives! Now I will give them the opportunity to err through the words of the spies, so that they will not ‘inherit it’”.

From this it follows that although Moshe heard from the Holy One, blessed be He, that there was no need to send the spies - nevertheless, Moshe's opinion ("in your opinion") agreed to this.

This matter is even more explicit in Rashi’s comment further on in Parshat Devarim

(on the verse (Deut. 1:23): “And the matter pleased me”)

where he states that the reason that Moshe consented to send the spies is just because,

“perhaps you would reconsider when you saw that I do not withhold it from you”

(This is like the parable that he cites of

“A man who says to his friend, “Sell me this donkey of yours.” He replies to him, “Yes.” “Will you give it to me to test it?” He replies, “Yes.” . . When he sees that his friend does not withhold anything from him, the purchaser said to himself, “This man is certain that I shall not find any defect in the donkey,” and he immediately says to him,’Take your money; I need not test it’”).

Thus, it expressly states that although Moshe sensed that the intention of Bnei Yisroel was not for the good,

(As can also be understood by the manner of the request of Bnei Yisroel, as Rashi explains there, that they all approached him “in a state of disorder - the young pushing aside their elders, the elders pushing aside their elders etc.”)

nevertheless, Moshe consented to the request of Yisroel (the opposite of Moshe’s will).

Since we albeit see that even before this, Moshe did not prevent sending them (for whatever reason) even though their intent was not for good. If so, there is no further reason to ask, even in our case, why he did not prevent the sending of the spies after, “Moshe sensed that their intention was for evil”.

 However, it is impossible to say so. For there is a great distinction in the matter:

In Rashi's aforementioned commentary regarding the request of Bnei Yisroel, "Let us send men ahead of us” because they did not believe in the goodness of the land, and which was not favorable in G-d’s eyes, for "I told them that it was good."

For in this, it is understood why Moshe consented to send them. For he thought that when they see that he is not afraid of sending people to see the Land, this itself will prove to Bnei Yisroel that the land is good, and that they will therefore return from this desire to see it.

One can even explain Moshe’s reason for agreeing to send the spies, even after he saw that Bnei Yisroel had not reversed their request. For because of his itself, he chose righteous people, "the heads of Bnei Yisroel”,

(Like Rashi’s wording in Parshat Devarim, “from the select that were among you, of the finest that were among you”)

For he relied that they would see the good of the land and that they would also bring them from the fruit of the land. Though this, it would be clear to Bnei Yisroel, with visible proof, that indeed the Land is very, very good, and that on the contrary, this would strengthen their desire to go up into the Land.

 However, if one were to say that Moshe sensed in the people that he himself had chosen, that they "intended evil”, there would be no reason to send them. Therefore, why he did not try to delay them?

Therefore, it appears that the two things,

  • "At that time they were virtuous," and
  • Moshe’s prayer, "May G-d save you from the counsel of the spies" –

from the very onset do not contradict each other, as will be explained.

3. This can be understood by explaining Rashi‘s precise wording:

 "May G-d save you from the counsel of the spies,"

And similarly, further on regarding Calev where Rashi explains that Calev,

 "Prostrated himself on the graves of the patriarchs, that he not be enticed by his colleagues to be part of their counsel”

For seemingly it would have been more fitting to use an expression that describes their sin – like “slander” (). As it states, “They spread an (evil) report about the land etc.”

(As Rashi himself state at the beginning of the Parsha, “Why is the section dealing with the spies juxtaposed with the section dealing with Miriam? Because she was punished over matters of slander etc.”

And also in continuation of the matter, “for the intention of the others was to present a slanderous report”, Or “the sin of the spies”.

Why does Rashi specifically use the word “counsel” ()?

One could say that Rashi specifically uses this language to emphasize that his intention is not to say that G-d should save them from the sin of the spies.

For “at that time they were (still) virtuous” (and were not suitable to the sin of “slander”, etc.).

They were just susceptible to the “counsel of spies" – plain “counsel” - not necessarily “bad counsel”.

(For this was only initiated later on during their travel, as it states, "their departure (on the journey) was with evil intent" as aforementioned in Par. 1, from the commentators).

On the contrary, since “” they must have thought that this is "good counsel ". Nevertheless, Moshe prayed on behalf of Yehoshua, "May G-d save you from the counsel of the spies" .

For although their intention was good, Nevertheless, their "counsel” could lead to error, etc. (as indeed actually happened). Therefore, he prayed that he would be saved from it.

4. The explanation of the matter is:

In the entire episode, the mission of the spies is described in the words "Tour/explore" - " explore the land of Canaan" "explore the Land", " explorer”, etc.,

The word "spies" is not even mentioned once, in our Parsha in conjunction with this mission.

(It is not that there is a deficiency and undesirable context in sending the spies.

For we find (further on in Parshat Chukat) that even after this, Moshe himself sent people “to spy on Yezer" and also Yehoshua sent spies.)

One could say that the reason of the matter is:

The distinction between the two expressions ​​–

  • "to explore " or
  • "to spy" - is:

“Explore" (mainly) describes just the search and the seeing. In our case, seeing the land and its inhabitants.

Whereas the word "spying" depicts investigating and searching for a hidden intent, as in spying that will aid in the conquest of the enemy’s land.

(This is like we find previously (in Parshat Miketz) regarding Yosef and his brothers as it states, "Yosef said to them (his brothers) ‘You are spies. You have come to see where the land is exposed" as Rashi explains, “where the land is exposed--- where it is most vulnerable to be conquered"),

In general, the aspect of spying is connected with the talent of the spy. For on the basis of his investigations and searches, it is possible to devise a plan how to fulfill a specific mission (the conquering of an enemy’s land, and so forth).

This is the reason that in our Parsha it only states the words, "to explore the land of Canaan etc.” and so forth.

For the whole matter of the mission (in Moshe's intent) was only for the deed, that they should see the land and the inhabitants, and tell Bnei Yisroel what they saw

(and also to bring back fruit from the Land, in order to show Bnei Yisroel the goodness of the Land) –

and nothing else, entirely.

With this, one can understand of the context of Moshe’s prayer, “May G-d save you from the counsel of the spies":

Even though Moshe emphasized to the people he had chosen, that the goal of the mission was only to "explore the land of Canaan", immediately after they met with him, he sensed that they saw themselves (not solely as "explorers" but) as "spies".

In other words, they felt that apart from the actual deed (to go and see the land), their role was to plan designs and draw conclusions (based on the espionage) that would affect the conquest of the land, etc.

Therefore, on this, Moshe prayed, "May G-d save you from the counsel of the spies":

Even though their counsel did not yet contain any sin, for "at that time they were virtuous" and their only intention was to offer good plans on how to assist, with their spying, in their conquest of the land etc. Nevertheless, Moshe prayed that Yehoshua not take part of the "counsel of spies" and that he remain faithful to the purpose of the mission, which was solely "to explore the land of Canaan" without involving an aspect of "giving counsel" etc.

For the conduct of “council (Spying)" was likely to result in downfall (as aforementioned in Par. 5).

(According to this, one could say that this was also the intent of Calev in his prayer, "That he not be enticed by his colleagues to be part of their counsel”)

However, on the other hand, it is understood that this was not a sufficient reason to cancel their mission.

For although, they saw themselves, “at that time” (when they were still "virtuous"), as "spies", this did not prove that it would bring undesirable results, and it was just a concern etc.

5. According to this, another puzzling matter in the case of spies is clarified that we seemingly do not find that Rashi explains:

How can it be that these chosen people, whom Moshe himself chose for this mission

(which, of course, were the most suitable among all Bnei Yisroel to fulfill this mission)

would be changed from one extreme to the other (), to become sinners and enticers. So much so, that they rebelled against G-d and said,

"We are unable to go up . . for they are stronger than we", as Rashi says, “They said this in reference to the most High, as it were, (as if to say that the people are stronger than He ")?

However, according to the aforementioned, one could say that Rashi’s exact wording: "counsel of spies" alludes to the root and cause that brought them to ‘decline after decline’ (), until it resulted in rebellion against G-d:

The word "counsel” indicates the need for searching and investigating a strategy, a certain matter, with a hidden and concealed intent (which not will be revealed to the opposers of this, etc.).

This is the matter of the "counsel of spies":

The aspect of spying requires "counsel" and strategy. Spies need to concoct ideas and schemes how to outwit and hide the purpose of their coming. In this manner, they succeed in carrying out their purpose without alerting the other, who can prevent it.

(This is similar to what we find, previously, with regarding to Yosef and his brothers, where he said to them:

"You are spies. You have come to see where the land is exposed’. They said to him, "No my master. Your servants have come to buy food "

In other words, according to Joseph’s words, they concealed the true purpose for which they came to Egypt ("to see the nakedness of the land") by saying that they had come to "buy food")

Thus, the aspect of espionage itself requires a conduct of deceit () and concealment of the truth. Only through this can one succeed in carrying out espionage.

This is the reason why Moshe wanted their mission to be limited solely to the part of the deed, "to explore the land of Canaan," without becoming "spies, and entering the counsel and ploys of deceit and concealment of the truth. So much so, that it causes them to stray from the characteristic of truth etc. Even when one’s intention is originally for a good purpose, to devise thoughts and plans of "good counsel”.

(For sometimes one must send spies, because in the end, it is impossible (according to natural means) to conquer the enemy. This is why, as aforementioned, Moshe sent people to spy on Yezer).

Nevertheless, in the end, the characteristic of deceit (and the concealment of the truth) can lower the person from level to level (), and requires extreme care not to stumble etc.

Therefore, after Moshe sensed that those people were considering themselves as "spies" - he prayed (immediately) on behalf of Yehoshua (his disciple), “May G-d save you from the counsel of the spies" - that he would not take part in their counsel (even if it be "good counsel"), in order that he not have any relation to the “counsel of the spies".

6. One can ‘sweeten’ this aspect according to what is explained by the Sages, namely that Moshe's characteristic is the characteristic of truth - "truth - is Moshe”.

(Which is why the Torah was given through him, for this is the aspect of Torah – Torat Emet (the Torah of truth).

Therefore, in order to be Moshe's emissary – as it states, the emissary of a person is like the person – “he is viewed as an extension of the person himself” ()

This is why Moshe's mission to the spies was only to "explore the land" and not "to spy on it".

For in this critical matter – the mission relating to entering the Land of Israel - there had to be the power of the sender () (the power of Moshe), in a revealed manner.

However, when the messengers deviated from the scope of their mission, and considered them to be spies, this nullified the power of the sender. For in addition to nullifying the mission, due to their deviation,

For through a messenger changing his mission (in a major fashion) it nullifies the mission,

here, they were, in essence, disqualified from being the emissaries of Moshe. For it impossible that they are “like him" – Moshe - whose characteristic is the characteristic of truth.

Only Yehoshua and a Calev, who were not tempted by the "counsel the spies" remained the emissaries of Moshe. This itself, protected them from straying from the intent and purpose of their mission.

Therefore, they said,

"The land . . is an exceedingly good land. Do not fear the people of that land for they are (as) our bread . . Do not fear them”

Because of this, they merited to enter the Land. So much so that they “remained alive of the men who went to tour the Land”

For “they took the spies’ portion in the Land, and replaced them in life, as it were”.

Msichas Shabbat Parshat Shlach 5745




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