Mission’s prime directive: Be a scout, not a spy


The namesake of our parasha, Shelach, is found in its second verse: “Send out for yourself (shelach lecha) men who will scout the Land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel.”

Rashi asks, “Why is the section dealing with the meraglim (spies) juxtaposed with the section dealing with Miriam?” He answers, “Because [Miriam] was punished over matters of slander, for speaking against her brother, and [the spies] witnessed [it], but did not learn their lesson.” Rashi suggests that just as Miriam was punished for her slander, the meraglim merited punishment.

Most readers take Rashi’s answer at face value, that both Miriam and the meraglim engaged in speaking iskei dibbah and were punished for their actions; therefore, the narrative of the spies follows Miriam’s ignominious story. Yet, we are left wondering how Miriam and the meraglim could have erred so grievously.

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik addresses this concern in his novel interpretation of the above-cited passage from Midrash Tanchuma, stating that more than lashon hara, Miriam had “overlooked the segullah [chosen and unique] element in Moses, and [meraglim] overlooked the segullah element in the land.”

The Rav expands the concept of segullah when he contrasts Moshe’s perception of Eretz Canaan with that of the meraglim: “Moses regarded the land not only in a political or physical light, but also as an exalted everlasting union. A singular segullah people, special to G-d, was being joined to a singular land, from which G-d’s attention is never withdrawn.”

Sadly, the meraglim represented the polar opposite of Moshe’s perspective.

“They viewed the land as one would appraise property,” writes The Rav. “Their report was that of spies, not that of scouts; they balanced debits against credits and declared the entire enterprise hopeless. With grandeur looking down on them, all they could see was the mundane.” 

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As I write these words, many of us are challenged in their perception of Medinat Yisrael. Many Jews today believe that Israel is just another country, a political entity and nothing more. In my view, this is a continuation of the meraglim mentality that, according to Chazal, is inextricably connected to Tisha b’Av, the destruction of the two Holy Temples, and the seemingly never-ending period of Galut.

In contrast, I believe the proper response to the miracle of Medinat Yisrael can be found in the stirring words of Yehoshua and Kalev, the two true scouts in the midst of the meraglim, who were the sole individuals to recognize the segullah nature of the Land:

They spoke to the entire congregation of the children of Israel, saying, “The land we passed through to scout is an exceedingly good land. If Hashem desires us, He will bring us to this land and give it to us, a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Num. 14:7-8) 

May the time come soon, and in our day, when, like Yehoshua and Kalev, our entire people will recognize the segullah qualities of Eretz Yisrael; and may we be zocheh to behold the complete fulfillment of kibbutz galuyot: “Sound the great shofar of our freedom, raise the banner to gather our exiles and gather us together from the four corners of the earth. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who gathers in the dispersed of His people Israel.” V’chane yihi ratzon.