“G-d Spoke to Moshe saying: Send forth men, if you want, and let them spy out the land of Canaan that I give to the children of Israel; one man from each tribe shall you send, every one, a leader among them” (Numbers Ch.13 v.1-2).
Moshe knew that it would be best for the Jews if they did not feel a need to check out Canaan (later to be called Israel).
This was not a typical nation scouting out the land before it entered. These were people who, besides having been spoken to by G-d at Sinai, had also seen the 10 plagues and the splitting of the sea. G-d had promised the Jewish people this land. After all He had shown them, He was certainly worthy of their trust. Unfortunately, the reality was otherwise. Moshe hoped that by sending in the spies the people’s worries would disappear, and they would be in the right frame of mind to enter the land of Israel, which they were set to do.
Instead, the worst possible tragedy happened: The 12 spies went into the land, and all but 2 (Yehoshua and Calev) spoke ill of the land. When the Jews heard this they cried the whole night. The children of Israel were then condemned to spend 40 years wandering in the desert, never to see the land of Israel (this whole generation would die before they entered the promised land). How could such a thing occur? How could 10 of the leaders of Israel blatantly violate the will of G-d? And once this happened, why were the people punished so severely?
While the Jews were traveling in the desert they enjoyed a unique relationship with G-d. They were fed with heavenly manna (literally food that fell from the heavens), they were surrounded by clouds protecting them from the elements, and they had all their basic needs taken care of. The spies knew that once the Jewish people went into Israel their whole reality would change and they would have to start providing for themselves. The spies felt the Jewish people were not ready for this drastic change. They therefore emphasized the negative aspects of Israel, and not the positive.
This was the spies’ great error. Although it might seem as if the Jews would not be able to withstand the rigors of the new situation, where was their belief in G-d? He had helped them thus far; what would it take for them to realize He was involved for the long haul? The Jewish people cried bitter tears. Why were they so willing to believe the 10 spies, when they had been promised by G-d Himself that He would be with them in their conquest of Israel? The Talmud relates that when the Jewish people cried that night G-d said: “They cried for no reason, I will establish this night as a time of weeping, throughout the generations.” That night was the ninth of Av—the day when, amongst other tragedies, both Temples were destroyed, Beitar was destroyed (Beitar was the last vestige of Jewish independence after the 2nd Temple was destroyed; many great Rabbis were killed there, amongst them Rabbi Akiva), the Jews were expelled from Spain, and World War 1 began. What made that day so fitting to be “the day” for Jewish tragedy? The Jewish betrayal of G-d. Even with all the Jews had witnessed, they still did not have confidence in their relationship with Him regarding their destiny.
This is the root of all Jewish tragedy: a lack of understanding of our relationship with the world—our role with our fellow man, our role with ourselves, and our role with G-d.
we merit this year to fully understand our role and purpose as Jews.