The spies sent by Moshe Rabbeinu returned with a frightening report. The land produced giant fruits but was also inhabited by enormous people. The land is one that “eats its inhabitants”! The shocked masses cried and rebelled, resulting in death to an entire generation over a 40-year period of wandering through the desert. The tragic night of the Ninth of Av was established as a night of tragedy for the Jewish people throughout the generations.
Forty years later, Moshe Rabbeinu again sends spies on a reconnaissance mission to Yazer. Without fanfare or much to-do they conquer the Emorite city and report back to our leader Moshe (Bamidbar 21:31). After the passing of Moshe, Yehoshua leads our people across the Yarden into the Holy Land. His first command as successor to his teacher is to send spies to Yericho (Yehoshua 2:1).
One must consider the paradox: “Is sending spies a good thing or not?” When Moshe decided to send the first group of spies, Hashem reluctantly permitted it. He said, “For Me there is no need to send anyone, but if you like, shelach LECHA — send for YOURSELF!” (Bamidbar 13:2, Rashi). If Hashem disapproved and the result was so disastrous, why did Moshe and Yehoshua send spies again just 40 years later? Why were the results of the later missions beneficial and successful?
The answer is simple: These spies benefited from experience and clear instructions.
The first spies traveled the land and became frightened. They observed awesomely powerful inhabitants and giant produce. They concluded, “We cannot ascend to that people for it is too strong for us!” (Bamidbar 13:31). Herein lies their mistake. They were not sent to make a determination IF we should enter the land but rather HOW to best conquer it. Hashem determines results and the human being may effectuate the means. Their mistake was that they overstepped their bounds and decided that we cannot win. They were sent to get information that would enable Moshe to chart a “natural” strategy for victory — not to decide whether winning was a possibility.
We learn this principle from the words of Rashi in Masechet Berachot 3a. The leaders of Israel came to Dovid Hamelech and pleaded, “Your nation Israel needs sustenance.”
“Go and support each other,” the monarch replied.
“A small handful of meat cannot satisfy a lion,” they replied.
“Then take up arms against our gentile neighbors and live off the spoils,” the king countered.
They immediately turned to Achitophel for advice. Rashi explains their inquiry as being about which roads to take, what supplies and arms to bring and which military strategies to employ. In other words, they did not ask “whether” to go or not — the king already decided that point. Their questions were “how” to successfully achieve victory.
The Torah is a collection of lessons for all generations. We as students of Torah must delve into the past to effectively deal with the present. The incident of the spies teaches us not to question what is incumbent upon us to do. Hashem has spelled out our obligations in the Torah. The destination is clear! The paths to follow and the tools to employ in order to reach our goals are the choices that are ours to make. It’s not a question of “What?” It is merely a matter of “How?”