Numbers 13/Send Forth Spies
HaShdeM (The Name, YHVH) tells Moses to send forth spies to ‘tour’ the Land of Canaan. It is the second year after the Exodus, and Moses and Israel expect to enter the Promised Land in just a few month.
Moses selects, by YHVH’s advice, 12 men, one from each of the twelve tribes of Israel; all leaders and Torah scholars, members of the Sanhedrin (the seventy sages of the high court by Moses.). Among them are, Caleb from the tribe of Judah and Joshua. They tour the Land for forty days, and they find it very fertile, flowing with milk and honey. Yet the inhabitants are strong in the spies’ eyes. They dwell in large, fortified cities and there are giants among them. Caleb and Joshua are the only ones who visit the tomb of the Patriarchs in the city of Hebron.
When the spies return, they speak to the entire assembly of Israel. Their report is devastating: ‘We can’t overcome these people,’ they say. Only Caleb and Joshua descent and tell the people that Israel should go up and conquer the land, for “HaSham is with us.” The entire assembly of Israel however opt to accept the negative report and they cry “at that night,” which will become a ‘crying night’ for generations. Both the first and second Temples will be destroyed on that date, the ninth of the month of Av. The rebel spreads and includes the rest of the Sanhedrin. They all wish to go back to Egypt. When they are about to stone Moses and Aaron, he Glory of YHVH appears in the Tent of the Meeting.
YHVH sounds angered. She (He) proposes to annihilate Israel AS A NATION, and replace it with a new one, comprised of Moses’ descendants.
Moses appeals, and YHVH decides NOT to terminate Israel as a people, this time, but only the current generation. The sinners will perish in the wilderness for forty years, and only their children will merit entering the Promised Land.
Why is YHVH so angry?
Can the nation of Israel ever be replaced by another nation? Would YHVH enter another covenant with other peoples?
The story begins with these words:
“And YHVH spoke to Moses saying,
send forth men, if you please,
and let them spy out the Land of Canaan
that I give to the Children of Israel.” (Numbers 13: 1-2)
If YHVH is giving the Land to Israel, as the verse attests here, why would Moses need spies?
One good answer is: “to teach us not to rely on miracles; that we should always try first to solve our problems in natural way” (Rabenu Bakhye, Spain)
Thus when we are sick, we should not only pray, but also seek a medical doctor.
And when the Children of Israel will enter the Promised Land to conquer it, they should do it in a natural way: have a good and trained army, supported by spies.
since we live in ELKM’s natural world, we need to seek natural solutions to our problems.
But if that’s the case, why the fuss about the spies’ bad report? Were they not supposed to report the truth as they saw it? Did Moses expect them to lie? (Abarbanel’s question)
Furthermore: if the entire body of leaders, including the Sanhedrin (apart from Caleb and Joshua) decided to go back to Egypt, why would their follower be punished?
Let’s read YHVH’s response:
“For how long will these people curse (desecrate) me?
For how long will they not believe in me
Despite all the signs that I have performed in him?
YHVH seems offended, disappointed. Although the people, including the Sanhedrin, decided to act logically in a natural way and return to Egypt, She is offended. Her name is desecrated. Why?
Let’s remember that YHVH is here in our world, and in our heart, on condition. Only if we invite Her, support Her and accept Her into our heart, She would stay with us. Otherwise, She would ‘fly’ back to Her realm, the Sabbath, leaving us in the hands of ELKM. And without Her defense in the Heavenly Court, ELKM would terminate us. As we’ve learned in Genesis Chapter One: if there is no BRIDE, Khalah, there is annihilation! khalah!
Hence YHVH in our heart gives us a direction. Yes, we ought to seek solutions to our problems by ELKM’s natural ways, but with YHVH’s direction in our heart. As genesis Chapter One shows, YHVH is an encore penetrating ELKM’s word: the YH dwelling in our world, and the VH is in the Sabbath. Without Her, without an encore, our Universe would wobble, lose direction and get lost in the super space.
I’ll give you an example: When Hertzel founded Zionism at the end of the 19th century, the “Jewish Question” in Europe was the agenda. The growing anti-Semitism needed a real solution. The first members of the movement offered Hertzel apparently good natural solutions: let the European Jews emigrate to Uganda, or Argentina, or certain areas in the USA, even to the Far East. But the Zionists voted for the Land of Israel, having YHVH in their heart.
Had they voted for the other options, they might have been successful physically, but their Jewish faith would have been lost.
Thus when YHVH noticed that the Children of Israel followed their natural instincts and opted to return to Egypt, She was offended.
How did She react to their decision? She said to Moses:
“I shall smite him (Israel) with the plague and annihilate them
And I shall make you a great nation, more awesome” (Numbers 14:12)
The ‘plague stands for killing then in a NATURAL WAY. It won’t happen by lightening or another sudden calamity, but rather by slow death in the wilderness. I YHVH removes Her special providence, the snakes and scorpions in the desert would get rid of the people LIKE ALL OTHER PEOPLES.
Or if they manage now to go back to Egypt, the Egyptians might welcome them with open arms, intermarry with them and incorporate them into their society, as happened to the many Israelites who did not go out with Moses at the Exodus. Since the rebellious people choose to follow only natural instinct, their fate would be natural: assimilation.
Moreover, YHVH threatened to annihilate the entire nation of Israel and replace them by a new, better nation: Moses’ descendants.
Moses does not accept the offer. In his plea to YHVH, he does not invoke the patriarchs. Instead he uses just one argument: if you annihilate Israel, WHAT WOULD THE NATIONS SAY ABOUT YOU? YOUR NAME WOULD BE DESECRATED!
“If you kill this people AS ONE PERSON
Then the nations, who have heard your name, would say
Because YHVH lacks the ability to bring the people
to the Land that He has sworn to give them,
He slaughtered them in the wilderness”
Moses pleads: Please, do not kill the nation as ONE PERSON, one sinner. Do not punish them as a whole nation.
Inferring: Treat them as individuals. Punish each sinner individually, but please do not terminate Israel as a nation.
let your strength be magnified
So support his plea, Moses adds a verse that has become central in our daily prayers till today:
“And now, may the strength of My Master (AaDoNai) be magnified
As you have spoken…” (14: 17)
Moses feels that Israel’s behavior has weakened the stance of YHVH in the our world and in our heart.
She need to be accepted and supported.
Not only in the eyes of Israel, but also in the eyes of the watching nations.
based on that prayer, the prophet Ezekiel later said: “And my name shall be magnified and sanctified” in the eyes of the nations.
His words are the base of the Kadish prayer, that we recite several times a day.
Moses now invokes part of the “13 attributes of MERCY” that he had heard from YHVH at the sin of the Golden Calf. His plea focuses on “YHVH, slow to anger.” To which YHVH responds:
“I forgave, AS YOU HAVE ASKED.“
YHVH would answer Moses AS HE REUESTED: She would not terminate the nations as a whole, but only the individual sinners. The generation would wonder in the wilderness for forty years, and only their children would enter the Promised Land. From the entire Sanhedrin, only Caleb and Joshua would survive.
So what is the law?
When are the people treated as individual sinners, and when as ONE PERSON?
The Torah gives the answer right away, in the next section.
As it turns out, the fate of the nation depends on the Sanhedrin.
If the entire Sanhedrin acts honestly but erroneously in one voice, telling the people to violate the Torah, or to abandon Judaism and the people subsequently follow them, then they would all be treated by the Heavenly Court as ONE PERSON. If they decide to forsake Judaism, no one would stop them. If they later repent, they would bring just one sin offering, since they are all one unite, one nation.
But if the erroneous Sanhedrin has acted not in one voice, if there are members who recent, then the peoples who have followed them would be regarded by the Heavenly Court as INDIVIDUAL SINNERS. Only the followers would be punished, but not the entire nation. And when they recant, each person would bring his own sin offering. They are not treated as a nation, but as individuals.
This section that follows the story of the spies gives us an understanding of YHVH decision.
Since the rebellious Sanhedrin had two recanting sages, Caleb and Joshua, the entire assembly of Israel was treated by the Heavenly Court as individual sinners, who would perish in the wilderness. But the nation of Israel would not be replaced.
Had Joshua and Caleb joined the rebellion, the Sanhedrin would be in one voice, and their followers would have been treated as one person, a nation. The Heavenly Court would have replaced Israel with a new, better nation made of Moses’ descendants.
From the twelve spies, only two, Joshua and Caleb, saved the Jewish people from extinction.
Hence if a qualified Sanhedrin decides honestly to worship idols, or to forsake Judaism, and the people would follow their decision, then the Heavenly Court would honor their decision and allow them TO DISAPPEAR FROM HISTORY in a natural way.
Has this ever happened?
An historical example
The RaMBaN says yes, it did happen. After King Solomon’s death, ten of the twelve tribes seceded from the house of David and formed the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The ten tribes also decided to worship idols, a decision supported by each tribe’s Sanhedrin. Only two tribes: Judea and Simeon, remained loyal to David and the Torah.
The results were predicted: The ten seceding tribes were exiled by the Assyrians to the mountains of Afghanistan and subsequently disappeared from history as Jewish tribes. The Heavenly Court respected the tribes’ decisions and removed its providence from them. Only the two small tribes, Judah (and Simeon) whose Sanhedrin remained loyal to YHVH, have survived as Jewish people for thousands of years, till today.
At the story of the spies, ten opted to go back to Egypt and two opted to stay.
Similarly, later in history, ten tribes finally abandoned Judaism, and only two survived: Caleb’s tribe and Simeon who joined him.
The question is: what would be the fate of the remaining Jewish people? Can they disappear from history, as the ten tribes did?
For that we need to read Jeremiah.
The prophet Jeremiah, facing the destruction of the First Temple (about 580 BC), foresaw also the exile of the two remaining tribes, the Judean citizen. Would they be gone from history?
So Jeremiah says:
“Behold, days are coming, says YHVH
When I will sign with the house of Israel and the house of Judah
A new Covenant
Not according to the Covenant that I signed with their forefathers
In the day that I by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt
The Covenant of mine that they broke though I was their Master,
“This shall be the Covenant that I will sign with the house of Israel
After those days, says YHVH….
And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor
And every man his brother, saying Know YHVH,
For they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them
“Thus says YHVH, who gives the sun for light by day,
And the ordinances of the moon and the stars at night
Who stirs up the sea that his waves roar, the YHVH of Hosts His Name
If these ordinances depart from me, says YHVH, than the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me, forever…” (Jeremiah 31:30-35)
In the past, says Jeremiah in YHVH’s name, I have made a Covenant with Israel at the time of the exodus. But under that Covenant, it was possible that the nation of Israel would disappear, pending on their Sanhedrin’s decisions.
But henceforth, says Jeremiah in YHVH name, I shall enter with Israel a new, stronger Covenant, assuring that the nation of Israel will never ever be replaced.
Even if their Sanhedrin errs and tells the people to ABONDON Judaism and worship idols, as the ten tribes had done, I shall not consider them again as a whole tribe or a nation. The sinners in Israel would be judged individually, and may disappear from the Jewish people at their discretion, but the nation will survive.
As it is said at the end of our parsha:
“for it happened to the entire nation unintentionally” (Numbers 15: 26)
It is because of that new Testament, the new Covenant of Jeremiah, that the Judean people have survived as Jews till today.