Parshas Shelach: Tourists or Spies?

In this week’s sedra (in Chutz la’Aretz), Shelach, we learn of the infamous sin of Cheit Ha’Meraglim.  On the cusp of entry to the land of Israel, just over a year after leaving Egypt, Moshe sent twelve scouts, one man from each tribe, to investigate the Land of Israel.  The pasukim tell us: And Hashem spoke to Moshe saying: שְׁלַחלְךָ אֲנָשִׁים, וְיָתֻרוּ אֶתאֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן, אֲשֶׁראֲנִי נֹתֵן, לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל: אִישׁ אֶחָד אִישׁ אֶחָד לְמַטֵּה אֲבֹתָיו, תִּשְׁלָחוּכֹּל, נָשִׂיא בָהֶםsend for yourself men, and they shall scout the Land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel, send one man each for his father’s tribe; each one shall be a prince in their midst (Bamidbar 13:1-2)… אֵ֚לֶּה שְׁמ֣וֹת הָֽאֲנָשִׁ֔ים אֲשֶׁר־שָׁלַ֥ח משֶׁ֖ה לָת֣וּר אֶת־הָאָ֑רֶץthese are the names of the men that Moshe sent to scout out the land (v.16), וַיִּשְׁלַ֤ח אֹתָם֙ משֶׁ֔ה לָת֖וּר אֶת־אֶ֣רֶץ כְּנָ֑עַן, and Moshe sent them to scout out the land (v.17).

He gave them specific instructions as to what they should look for: And see the land, what is it?  Are the people strong or weak?  Are they few or many? And what is the quality of the land?  And what about the cities within her?  And you shall take of the fruit of the landוַיַּֽעֲל֖וּ וַיָּתֻ֣רוּ אֶת־הָאָ֑רֶץ, and they went up and they scouted out the land (v.18-21).

Four times in this passage, we are told that the men were sent la’tur es ha’Aretz – to tour and scout out the Land!  Four times in a Torah that does not waste even one word!  It is, therefore, compelling and interesting to note that the Torah tells us they were sent to scout out the land, la’tur es ha’Aretz, while when referring to the sin, we call it the Chait Ha’Meraglim, the (Infamous) Sin of the Spies.

What is the meaning of ‘to scout out the land’ vs. ‘to spy out the land’?  Why does the Torah call them ‘tourists’ and we call them ‘spies’?  What do we learn from this difference and what practical mussar ha’skel, lesson, can we take for ourselves?

In his sefer, Eretz Yisrael in the Parashah, R’ Moshe D. Lichtman writes, “Rabbi Shmuel David Lutzato (known as the Shadal, 1800-1865) notes that there is a difference between tur (a tourist) and meragel (a spy).  A person who tours a certain place, or new land, seeks out the good that can be found in that place.  As the pasuk says (in last week’s sedra, Behaaloscha): וַֽאֲר֨וֹן בְּרִֽית־ה נֹסֵ֣עַ לִפְנֵיהֶ֗ם דֶּ֚רֶךְ שְׁל֣שֶׁת יָמִ֔ים לָת֥וּר לָהֶ֖ם מְנוּחָֽהand the Ark of Hashem’s covenant traveled before them a distance of three days, to scout and search out a resting place for them (10:33).

“The opposite is true of a spy and his mission and purpose.  A spy looks for the bad in a place, as Yosef said to his brothers (when he accused them of coming to Egypt with sinister intentions): מְרַגְּלִים אַתֶּם, לִרְאוֹת אֶתעֶרְוַת הָאָרֶץ בָּאתֶםYou are spies!  To see the nakedness (weak points) of the land you have come! (Bereishis 42:9)… Similarly, וַיְרַגֵּל בְּעַבְדְּךָ, אֶלאֲדֹנִי הַמֶּלֶךְHe slandered your servant to my lord the king (Shmuel II 19:28)… They all mean a revealing of someone or something’s disgrace and evil.  [See also Vayikra 19:16, לֹא־תֵלֵ֤ךְ רָכִיל֙ בְּעַמֶּ֔יךָ, with Rashi, for another powerful illustration of this idea.]

“Now, Moshe Rabbeinu did not send the twelve men out of necessity, as is well known.  After all, G-d said that it was a land flowing with milk and honey.  In addition, what difference does it make if the nation dwelling there is strong or weak, seeing that Hashem will fight on behalf of Am Yisrael?  Rather, Moshe sent them la’tur es ha’Aretz, to tour the Land, to see its goodness and tell the people of its glory, in order to encourage them to follow after Hashem.  They, however, acted corruptly, plotting an abominable scheme and overturning Moshe’s intentions.

“Therefore, we refer to them as meraglim, spies, even though the Torah – at the outset of their mission – refers to them as tarim, tourists.  Indeed, in the book of Devarim (1:24) [which is always read erev Tisha b’Av, the day the spies returned and the nation sat to cry] the Torah there – 39 years after the sin of the spies occurred – uses a lashon that accurately reflects their intentions and disaster they wrought: וַיִּפְנוּ וַיַּעֲלוּ הָהָרָה, וַיָּבֹאוּ עַדנַחַל אֶשְׁכֹּל; וַיְרַגְּלוּ, אֹתָהּand they turned and they went up the mountain, and they came to Nachal Eshkol, and they spied it out.

“They acted like spies, not tourists or scouts, even though they were sent to tour and not spy” (Eretz Yisrael in the Parashah, p.258).

From here we learn an important lesson.  Whether we are blessed to live in Eretz Yisrael, or are zocheh to visit her holy soil from time to time (with the hopes and dreams of one day settling there), we must always approach the Land with eyes of tayarim, tourists, looking to see the excitement, beauty, holiness, goodness and blessings that can only be found in the Land.  The set of glasses we choose to wear when viewing Eretz Yisrael – those of tayarim or those of meraglim, c’v – will shape our mission and our experience with the Land.

On the occasion of his 10th “Aliyaversary”, David Olivestone recently wrote: “One erev yomtov, as I paid for my challot and rugelach at the bakery counter, the assistant – a man without a kippah – wished me chag samayach.  He said he looked forward to seeing me during chol ha’moed.  ‘No,’ I said, ‘I have all I need for the whole chag as we won’t be having any guests.’  ‘Perhaps,’ he answered, ‘Eliyahu ha’Navi will come?’” (Jewish Action, Summer 2023, p.112).

As Eretz Yisrael is the Land that Hashem seeks out – ‘אֶרֶץ, אֲשֶׁרה אֱלֹהֶיךָ דֹּרֵשׁ אֹתָהּ: תָּמִיד, עֵינֵי ה אֱלֹקְּיךָ בָּהּמֵרֵשִׁית הַשָּׁנָה, וְעַד אַחֲרִית שָׁנָה (Devarim 11:12) – we would be wise to remember that the Land that Hashem loves is His gift to the nation that He loves.  If His eyes are upon it from the beginning to the end of the year, to seek its good and beauty, we must make sure we share His vision, longing and love for the Land.

Perhaps then, the sin of the spies will be rectified and repaired, and as the assistant in the bakery said: Maybe, just maybe, Eliyahu ha’Navi will come.

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלןם,


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