Maharal on the Sedra
Hashem Warns the Spies not to Slander
Bamidbar 13:2 - Send forth men to spy out the land of K’naan…
Rashi: Why is the section on spies immediately following the section on Miriam? She was stricken on account of slander, for she spoke against her brother, and these evildoers saw it and failed to heed the lesson.
Gur Arye: Why did Hashem pick this time to tell Moshe to send spies, not sooner and not later? Moshe’s recapitulation of the story [D’varim 1:22] has Israel asking Moshe for spies, but here we have only Hashem speaking to Moshe without their request. This means their request came earlier, but Hashem did not agree until now, to allow the spies to learn from Miriam. Similarly, the account in midrash [Bamidbar Rabba 17:6] has Hashem anticipating their slander against the Land, and He wanted them not to have the excuse that no one told them the punishment for slander. Now we understand why now after Miriam’s slander and punishment, Hashem agreed with Israel’s request for spies.
For Israel to ask that spies be sent is logical and natural, to know the roads and cities before they invade. In fact, the rabbis tell us [Pesachim 64b] not to depend on the miracle. Yehoshua similarly sent spies [Yehoshua 2:1] and this was good in Hashem’s view, for it showed they were z’rizim [enthusiastic, desirous] toward the conquest. Similarly, when Israel said [D’varim 1:22] “let us send men”, they did not ask to tour and evaluate the Land apart from the facts that would enable them to conquer it. Therefore it seemed to Moshe to be a reasonable request, so he consulted with Hashem, for he would not act without such consultation. Hashem saw that in their evil hearts the motivation of their request for spies was reluctance to enter the Land and lack of faith that the Land was good and that they could conquer it with Hashem’s help. But they did not want to speak of this, and couched their request in reason- able terms. Hashem tells Moshe to send them, but on his own account, and not as a command. If one comes to corrupt, he is given the opportunity [Shabbat 104a] as a function of free choice. Had their intentions been proper, Hashem would have counseled to help one who comes to act with purity [ibid.], but in this case, He did not offer counsel, in order to preserve their free choice.
Ramban asks what was wrong with the spies’ report [D’varim 1:28] that the cities were great and fortified to the heaven? Mizrachi answers that their sin was to say, “we will not be able to go up because they are stronger than we”, implying they were stronger than Hashem. However, their sin was to say after reporting the Land was good, “efes [however] their nation is strong”, and efes always negates the previous statement. What they were saying was that the Land is very good, but that will not help us because their people are strong. Efes negated their whole report.
Dr Kuhr is the author of Lion Cub of Prague - Genesis. The next volume on Exodus and Leviticus is in press.
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