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The Noble Sin of the Spies: Craving Life In Paradise

They Were Not Afraid of Defeat; They Were Afraid of Victory

1 hr 30 min

Class Summary:

The Jews are poised to enter the ancient land of Canaan. Finally the journey that began with the Exodus and stopped at Sinai is to reach its final destination. Moses will lead them, and usher in a new dawn for civilization. Moses sends twelve spies, handpicked from the best and brightest men of the nation to bring back a report on the land and strategic military information.

But then disaster strikes. Ten of the spies return with a terrifying report: The cities are fortified. The people are mighty. Even the produce is fearful. The people panic, and refuse to continue. They are ultimately punished to spend the next forty years in the desert and only their children will enter Israel, under the leadership of Joshua.

Many interpretations are offered to explain the grave mistake of the spies--how such great men could make such a terrible and costly mistake. The Talmud says they questioned G-d’s abilities. The Zohar says they were afraid of losing their status as leaders if they entered the Promised Land. Both explanations seem absurd. They have witnessed the greatest miracles of mankind; and would they really jeopardize the future of the entire nation because of their craving for power?!

The most remarkable of all the commentators on the episode of the spies was Rabbi Schnuer Zalman of Liadi. His insight turns the conventional understanding of the spies upside down. They were, in his view, not afraid of defeat. They were afraid of victory. What they said to the people was one thing, but what led them to say it was another entirely.

We come to discover why the day of their death, 17 Elul, is a day of mourning in Jewish law; why the concept of a Minyan is derived from the spies. We also gain an understanding into the mitzvos following the story of the spies, the mitzvah of wine libations, challah and tzitzis.

Please leave your comment below!

  • DB

    Dina Buzaglo -1 year ago

    Thank you so much dear Rabbi. I'm passing on this shiur to a women's class in Kiriat Shmona. 

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  • Anonymous -6 years ago

    A couple of points

    Beautiful as always Rabbi Jacobson. A couple of points to add to what you said:

    • The word מאד refers to the יצר הרע. Therefore Kolev said the land is טוב מאד מאד. That is the goodness of going to the land is a result of the יצר הרע. Without it, who needs the whole world.
    • The name י-ה also refers to the state of incompleteness, as is in כי יד על כס י-ה, אין שמו וכסאו שלם. It is the job of the Jewish people to wipe out Amalek. And as long as we haven't eradicated both the internal and  external Amalek, His name and throne are not complete. Staying in the desert would have left us insulated from Amalek.
    • This is why the Shulchan Orech (Orech Chaim 156) paskens that one must go to work. One must live in this world, not only in the next.


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  • M

    Meir -6 years ago


    I had always thought ממנו also meant "from us" as well as "from him" in scriptural Hebrew.

    You surprised me saying, "'From us' in Hebrew is מאתנו!

    But if you look in Torah, or in all of Tanach, you can't find the word מאתנו.

    I found it nowhere.

    So my question is, how were you so sure of your assertion.

    Perhaps you heard this from the Rebbe, or saw it in a sefer?

    I speak Hebrew well and use מאתנו like you would, using it to mean "from us".

    So how come this word never appears in Tanach?

    I ask only to better my Hebrew.

    I'd really like to be sure ממנו actually means "from him", and not "from us".



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  • Anonymous -6 years ago

    This is our problem today

    I have been speaking about this for a while, that the Yeshiva system does not inherit the students with a feeling of accomplishment if they have to enter the working world and cannot be a Michaneich, Rav, rosh yeshiva, shliach etc. It is Mamash a repetition of the story of the Meraglim.

    I have witnessed many stories of Bochurim who were excelling students in Yeshiva, enter the real world and feel unfulfilled.

    In one extreme case, currently with a relative of mine, an aspiring Talmid Chacham who was a great Masmid in Yeshiva, he is literally is sick in bed with depression over his lack of ability to lead a life of learning and harvatzas hatorah, and needing to work for a living. I tried speaking to him many times, but he said that it is the opposite of what he was preached his whole life in the system. And he learned in a yeshiva where they teach these ideas about the mistake of the meraglim! What the Litvish have created with sitting in Kolel as class A citizens and working folk as inferior class B citizens, some of us have created with going on Shlichus, and everyone else feels second class.

    I conclude with one more Maaseh that happened I believe 4-5 years ago. I was at an alumni convention for my old Yeshiva and one of the Roshei Yeshiva’s, Rav Lefkivker, asked the alumni to state to the public what they currently do. Many people said some very impressive positions in Shlichus, Torah, and in the business world. One student said that he managed a Pizza shop. Like it was preprogrammed, the crowd burst in laughter. I felt shock and ashamed for that person. Rav Lefkivker immediately told the crowd there is nothing to laugh about and there is nothing wrong with it etc. But I thought to myself, and think to myself until today, If we need a Mashpia to explain to us, to alumni who went through the system, that it is no shame or laughing matter for a person to work hard for a living, irrelevant of the job [as states in Shulchan Aruch in Hilchos Tzedaka] then we have a broken system who has inherited false philosophies to our youth.

    Would love to hear your thoughts and mainly what can be done to fix this broken system.

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    • S

      SW -6 years ago

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I have a complimentary story - Mr Irving Stone was the Chairman of the Board of American Greetings - he was incredibly wealthy and also an incredible mensch. Humble. I was at a board meeting of a school and we went around the room to introduce ourselves. the first person says my name is Shmeril and I'm a CPA. Then Beryl and I am an attorney, and Yankel and I am a physician and on and on - I don't think Mr Stone was interested in their careers and positions - he just wanted to know their names. Finally it came to me, and I said my name and that I am a Shlepper. the room chuckled - but Mr Stone pointed his finger and said - at least he really knows what he is. 

      I interpreted it as a little mussar to the rest of the room. Being a doctor or lawyer does not define you - who you are, your name defines you. 

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  • D

    Dov -9 years ago

    Great Drosha. Thank you! One comment. I believe it was only one spy in the pomegranate peel. Not all of them.

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  • B

    B.N.. -9 years ago

    Shalas Tam: How can 17 Elul be the yartzeit of the meraglim, if they died right after their report (as you note: "The day of their report"), when we know that day was the 9th of Av??!!

    Please answer.


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    • L

      Levi -9 years ago

      Ils ne sont pas morts immédiatement apres leur rapport , entre temps Yeochoua et Kalev ainsi que le peule on réagient... en suite jusqu'à ce que Hashem soit intervenu c'était deja le 17ème jour du mois de Eloul

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Rabbi YY Jacobson

  • June 7, 2015
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  • 20 Sivan 5775
  • |

Leilu Nishmat Reb Eliyahu Tzion ben Reb Chananya Niasoff ז"ל.
And in the merit of our partner in Torah Yigal Yisroel ben Sofia שיחיו

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