After 40 days, the spies returned to the camp and reported their findings. But then – with the exception of Caleb and Joshua – they made their fatal mistake, drawing their own conclusions from the evidence they had gathered, rather than letting Moses interpret it. They concluded that the land could not be conquered.
The Pitfalls of the Spiritual Life
הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר עָבַרְנוּ בָהּ לָתוּר אֹתָהּ אֶרֶץ אֹכֶלֶת יוֹשְׁבֶיהָ הִוא וגו': (במדבר יג:לב)
[The spies said,] “The land we traveled through to inspect is a land that consumes its inhabitants.” Numbers 13:32

The spies’ heightened but misdirected spiritual orientation led them astray. The spies wanted to experience life and pursue G‑dliness unencumbered by the distractions of materiality. In the desert, the Jewish people were protected by the Clouds of Glory, sustained by the manna and the well of Miriam, and all their physical needs were fully attended to. All of their time was spent in the study of the Torah, in meditation, and in prayer. The spies were repulsed by the notion of entering the real world, where we must waste time working for our daily bread. The vision of a life devoted to expanding our Divine consciousness unburdened by material distractions is of course praiseworthy. This vision has inspired us to yearn throughout history for the Messianic era, when the materiality of the world will no longer distort our spiritual focus.

Nonetheless, this yearning must be balanced with humble submission to G‑d’s plan. The purpose of life is to live within mundane reality, revealing the G‑dliness concealed within it. Only by entering the material world can G‑d’s essence be found, through fulfilling His commandments on the physical plane.1