שביבי אש
לסדר שלח

וּרְאִיתֶם אֶת הָאָרֶץ מַה הִוא

And see the land, what it is (Numbers 13:18)

Rashi comments: There are countries which rear strong people and there are countries which rear weak people.

According to Rashi's comment, the end of the verse clarifies the beginning. Whether the people dwelling on the land are strong or weak is an indication of the quality of the land and whether the land produces mighty inhabitants or weak ones. The Scripture mentions another sign from which they could infer strength of the inhabitants: whether they dwell in camps or in strongholds.

Rashi explained this well, because each verse begins with words "and what the land is" (u-mah ha-aretz).

From here it is apparent that Moses sent the spies only to see that they were going to inherit a beautiful estate - so that they should set their hearts on it because of its productivity and goodness - for hearing about the land is obviously not the same as seeing it. But he did not send the spies to determine if they would be able to drive out the inhabitants and take possession of the land, because that would have shown a lack of faith in the Eternal Who had already promised to bring them into the land. We can thus well understand the guilt of the spies and the greatness of their sin in having changed their mission to inspect the land to that of determining whether the Children of Israel would be able to take it from the Emorites. In so doing, they transformed a desirable quality of the land - that the people who dwelled in it were strong and healthy and mighty - into an undesirable one. And they said that we will not be able to stand up to the people, because they are stronger than we are and because the Eternal is not strong enough to bring us there.

Understood in this light, how fitting are the words of the Sages who said that Moses called Hoshe'a the son of Nun Joshua, as if to say may G-d save you from the advice of the spies. Many have wondered why Moses did not also pray on behalf of Caleb. And many pens have been broken upon this point. However, according to the words of our master it is properly explained, for Joshua also sent spies to gather intelligence about how to conquer the land (and see the Malbim who proves from the Scripture the difference between the spies (tarim) that Moses sent and the spies (m'raglim) that Joshua sent. For the/tarim/ go to see whether the land is good or bad and the /m'raglim/ go to find the secrets of the land, where the most vulnerable point of attack is).

Nor is there any mystery why Joshua thought it proper to risk the same mishap that occurred with the spies of Moses, because Joshua was motivated by a different idea. For Joshua, in sending spies, was simply following the normal practice of the world. Although one should believe, and place his trust, in the Eternal, one should, nevertheless, act in all things in accordance with the ordinary way of the world and conduct himself according to the laws of nature without relying on miracles, because it is preferable to minimize miracles (ki l'ma'eit b'nisa adiph). Therefore when Joshua approached the Promised Land, he sent spies only to determine how to wage war against it, not to determine if it would be possible to conquer the land.

However, when Moses sent men to assess the land, the time had not yet come to conquer it. He only wanted to know how good the land was. But instead, those spies went out and searched it to assess whether they would be able to conquer it. In so doing, they showed the weakness of their faith in the Eternal and there was contempt and wrath in abundance.

This is why Moses prayed on behalf of Joshua "may G-d save you from the counsel of the spies." Moses meant that when Joshua would send his own spies he should not do so with the same idea as Moses did, thereby creating doubt in the promise of the Eternal. Rather they should just search out the best path by which to reach the ultimate goal of conquering the land in the natural way.

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל מֹשֶׁה מוֹת יוּמַת הָאִישׁ רָגוֹם אֹת בָאֲבָנִים וכו' וַיִּרְגְּמוּ אֹתוֹ בָּאֲבָנִים וַיָּמֹת כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְהוָה אֶת-מֹשֶׁה

And the Lord said to Moses, The man shall be surely put to death . . . and they stoned him with stones, and he died; as the Lord commanded Moses. (Numbers 15:35-36)

One may ask: First, why did the Scripture write "the man shall be put to death" (מוֹת יוּמַת הָאִישׁ) and then "all the congregation shall stone him with stones" (רָגוֹם אֹתוֹ בָאֲבָנִים כָּל-הָעֵדָה) which seems to be redundant. And even according to Rashi who explained that they knew that he was deserving of the death penalty, but did not know by which method to execute him, there is still a redundancy. See the derivation of the Sifri from this repetition.

Second, why is the infinitive form "רָגוֹם" used, which Rashi comares to "שָמוֹר" (to remember) and "זָכוֹר" (to keep). It is difficult to understand why the infinitive form was used instead of the imperative form "רְגוֹם".

Third, the Scripture writes, "And they stoned him and he died as the Lord commanded" (וַיִּרְגְּמוּ אֹתוֹ בָּאֲבָנִים וַיָּמֹת כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְהוָה), but it would have been more appropriate to write "And they stoned him as the Lord commanded, and he died" ( וַיִּרְגְּמוּ אֹתוֹ בָּאֲבָנִים וַיָּמֹת כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְהוָה).

And it appears to our master to explain this according to the Midrash (which is mentioned in the Tosafot, Bava Batra 119b s.v. aphilu) which says that the one who gathered sticks did so for the sake of Heaven, because our forefathers in the desert were misguided and said that after the Eternal had decreed that they would die and be buried in the desert, there was no longer any point in their observing the commandments and laws of G-d. For what would they gain by doing so? The gatherer of sticks therefore arose and sacrificed his own life to show them that the word of G-d must be maintained forever even by them. So, according to this Midrash, we can say that the Eternal, Who searches the heart of every person, knew that this exalted man resolved to sacrifice his life and accepted death in order to sanctify the name of G-d in the eyes of the children of Israel. The Eternal, therefore, must certainly have gathered in this pure spirit to Himself. Thus, the gatherer of sticks expired and died before his body was shattered by stones, so that a righteous person such as he would not suffer the cruel pain, even more terrible than death, caused by stoning, the most severe method of execution. The whole act of stoning was thus performed not to cause the death of the man, but only to be witnessed by the children of Israel, so that they should not continue to be sinful.

That is why the Eternal told Moses "the man shall be put to death" (מוֹת יוּמַת הָאִישׁ). This man who is sufficiently exalted to be referred to as "אִישׁ" will die first. Then the Scripture says "רָגוֹם", which is in the infinitive form, meaning "to stone," by which the Scripture meant to say, he will die first in order that he may be stoned without having to suffer. And then the Scripture tells us that that is what happened, and then "the whole congregation stoned him" (רָגוֹם אֹתוֹ בָאֲבָנִים כָּל-הָעֵדָה). However, "he died as the Lord commanded Moses" (וַיָּמֹת כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְהוָה אֶת מֹשֶׁה), because he entrusted his spirit to the G-d of the spirits of all flesh (אֱלֹהֵי הָרוּחוֹת לְכָל בָשָר) before they stoned him.