What was wrong with sending spies to check out the land?
Rashi explains, quoting Chazal, that Hashem told Moshe to “send for himself” spies to check out the land, because Hashem himself was not altogether happy with the idea.
And indeed, we know that this action ended in disaster.
Yet, we find that when finally entering the land 40 years later, Yehoshua also went to spy out the land, seemingly forgetting this important lesson.
Furthermore, Moshe gives the spies precise instructions regarding what to look out for, including the nature of the inhabitants and their cities, and they seem to come back with a report that follows those questions.
What exactly did they do wrong?
It seems to me, that as with many things in life, sending spies was not in itself a bad thing, but completely dependent on the attitude and intentions of the spies.
It is completely acceptable and even advisable not to rely unnecessarily on miracles and to take whatever steps one can take to prepare for whatever situation one might encounter.
Entering the land was not supposed to be subject to debate, but it was still up to the people to plan their strategy as to the best way to conquer it, and that depended very much on the nature of the inhabitants and their cities.
Had the spies had the correct attitude, realized that Hashem’s promise to take us into the land was not subject to question, kept their ultimate faith in Hashem’s ability to so, and merely used the mission as a strategy planning session, hence doing their part and then “letting” Hashem do his, the idea would have been very positive, and Moshe indeed saw It this way.
Yet Hashem, of course, knew their most intimate thoughts and understood that their intentions were not so correct, and thus disassociated “himself” from it.
The Ramban indeed follows this approach- from the words of Rashi, I think that one can take it a step further as well, focussing not only on strategy, but also on the importance of positive thinking.
In explaining the instruction to check out the land, Rashi comments :
את הארץ מה היא – יש ארץח מגדלת גבורים ויש ארץ מגדלת חלשיםט יש מגדלת אוכלוסין ויש ממעטתי אוכלוסין:
“There are some lands that breed strong people and some lands that breed weak people. Some lands breed large populations and others limit them.”
It is clear that the spies were instructed to see a large and powerful population as a positive sign, as proof that the land was good to its inhabitants, and would be equally or even better to us.
The spies were expected to go in with positive thinking, and interpret whatever they saw in a positive light, and come back and use the information to encourage and motivate the people – even a large and powerful population was supposed to be seen as a positive sign.
Yet the spies did exactly the opposite , and used their findings of a strong and powerful population to frighten the people out of entering the land- their words ” we won’t be able to go up to the nation because they are too strong for us”, gives them away.
Not satisfied with interpreting the people’s strength as a negative, they then proceed to talk bad about the land itself.
Instead of using this holy mission to plan their strategy for the promised entry into the land, and to find information that would help inspire and motivate the people to do so, they use the information they saw to frighten and scare the people and convince them that going to the land was a suicide mission, despite Hashem’s promise.
Our mission is to follow the guidelines Hashem has given us to the best of our ability, and to take whatever practical steps are necessary to help us fulfil that mission.
In addition, whatever challenges we face along the way should be interpreted positively, and used to further motivate ourselves to follow this mission.
Using the challenges we encounter as excuses to absolve ourselves of this mission is simply not an acceptable option- we need to see the cup as at the least “half full”, not “half empty” appreciate the good in whatever challenges we face, and use it to inspire us to do more good.
This is no small challenge, and indeed, most of the greatest men of the generation failed this test, but it is no excuse not to at least try.