The story of Moshe sending a group of spies to explore the land of CanaanEretz Yisrael — is related twice in the Torah. All the details take up more than one half of Parshat Shelach, and it is again referred to briefly in the beginning of Chumash Devarim.

Prior to Moshe’s physical parting with Klal Yisrael, he rebuked the people for some of their wrongdoings during his forty years of leadership.

Careful analysis will show that there is a one-word difference between the way Moshe spoke to the Jewish people and the way Hashem spoke to Moshe which is somewhat puzzling and begs clarification.

When Moshe spoke he said to them “All of you approached me and said, ‘Let us send men ahead of us veyachperu lanu et ha’aretz — and let them spy out the land for us’” (Devarim 1:22).

Today, however, we read that Hashem said to Moshe, “Shelach lecha anashim veyaturu et eretz Canaan — Send forth men, if you please, [lit. for yourself] and let them spy out the land of Canaan” (13:2).

When Hashem spoke to Moshe, why did He use the term “veyaturu”? What message was He implying?

The word “veyaturu” (ויתרו) contains the word “Yitro,” (יִתְרוֹ) Moshe’s father-in-law. Why did Hashem bring Yitro into the parshah of Shelach?

When Yitro visited Moshe he observed that Moshe was judging the people all day long. Out of concern that this exhausting task was too time-consuming and would wear out his strength, he suggested delegating some authority to others. He told him to appoint leaders of groups of people. Thus, there would be judges to serve the people whenever needed, and they would not be required to wait interminably for Moshe himself to decide their disputation.

In commemoration of his advice and counsel, the Torah named the entire parshah containing his words of wisdom with his name — Yitro.

Superficially, one may wonder, what great advice did Yitro give? It is common sense that when a company or school grows, you add more senior officers and divide up the responsibility.

For instance as a school grows, you add an assistant principal. When it grows even more, you add division heads, etc. The principal remains the headmaster but now has people assisting him. The same is true in many businesses, so what is so novel about Yitro’s intuition?

Yitro prefaced his advice by acknowledging that this plan required Hashem’s approval (Shemot 18:19). Torah relates that Yitro said to him “Now heed my voice, I shall advise you, and may G‑d be with you.” Rashi comments, “In the advice [Yitro said to Moshe] go out and consult the Al‑mighty.” In summation, Yitro said to Moshe “If you will do this thing — and G‑d shall command you — then you will be able to endure” (18:23). Rashi explains that Yitro was telling Moshe “Consult the Al‑mighty. If He commands you to do thus, as I have recommended, you will be able to stand, i.e. succeed, but if He will prevent you, you will not be able to stand (i.e. you will not succeed in implementing the judicial system that I am proposing).”

Yitro was familiar with all idolatry in the world. Though he had known previously that Hashem was great, he was now convinced that He was the greatest. For sharing with Moshe his conviction that only with Hashem’s blessing and help can one succeed, he deserves commendation. His words are also a strong message to posterity.

On the words “shelach lecha — “send forth for yourself” Rashi explains the emphasis of the word “lecha” — for yourself — is that Hashem was telling Moshe “You are doing this by your discretion; I do not command you to do so — if you wish, send forth.” Therefore, since Hashem was not in favor of sending the spies, He used the term “veyaturu” which can spell “veYitro” — “and Yitro” — to allude to Moshe that the mission did not have Hashem’s consent and blessing, and Moshe was doing it on own. Hashem added “veYitro” — “and Yitro” — alluding that you should remember the advice of your father-in-law Yitro: For an endeavor to succeed Hashem’s consent is a prerequisite.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, in life you will need to make many decisions. At times your Yeitzer Hara — Evil Inclination — may push you to follow his advice and encourage you to do things his way. The parshah advises that when making a move or undertaking an enterprise, bear in mind always “veyeturuveYitro” — the beautiful advice of Yitro: Consult with Hashem, and make sure the plan meets His conditions, i.e. check with your Rabbis, Mentors or Elders, if it is proper in accordance with Torah and halachah. Thus, you may be assured of what Yitro told Moshe, “Vehi Elokim imach — When G‑d will be with you — veyacholta amod — you will be able to stand” — that is, you will experience much success begashmiyut u’beruchniyut — materially and spiritually.


As the Jewish people were about to enter Eretz Yisrael, they requested that messengers be sent to survey the land. Moshe consented and sent a group of twelve prominent people to go there and bring back a report. Unfortunately, they came back with a report that demoralized the people and caused them to remain 40 years in the wilderness.

Prior to their leaving, Moshe instructed them to look closely into the nature of the Land and its inhabitants. Is it strong or weak, are the people few or numerous, is the Land good or bad(i.e. does it have a reliable water supply)? Is there a righteous person living there in whose merit the residents would be sheltered from attack? Moshe also instructed that they should bring back samples of the fruit of the Land.

Upon their return, the spies reported: “We came to the Land to which you sent us, and it is flowing with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people, who inhabit the Land are mighty, and the cities are extremely huge and fortified.”

At that point, Calev interrupted them. He silenced the nation and assured them, “We shall surely go up and take possession of it [the Land], for we can indeed overcome it.”

Why did Calev interrupt the spies’ report? Up until that point, they spoke only about the richness of the Land and the might of its inhabitants — precisely what Moshe had asked them to investigate! It was only after Calev interrupted them and spoke encouragingly about going to Eretz Yisrael that they disputed and spoke disparagingly against the Land, maintaining that their efforts to go there would fail. What did Calev see in their words that already put him on the defensive?

The Rebbe explains in Likkutei Sichot (Vol. 4, pp. 1313-1314) that what Calev noticed was their failure to report their findings in the same order as Moshe’s directives. In this slight deviation Calev sensed a fundamental difference of priorities between them and Moshe. Moshe said “See the Land, what is it: are the people who inhabit it strong or weak? Are they few or many? And what of the Land they inhabit: is it good or bad?” (13:18-19). The first thing Moshe asked about was the strength of the Land’s inhabitants, because his primary concern was how to go about G‑d’s command to conquer the Land. The quality of the Land was only of secondary significance to him. The spies, however, spoke first about the benefits of conquering the Land — “It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit” — and only afterward about the challenging task that lay before B’nei Yisrael.

Calev realized immediately that they were making a dreadful mistake. For when a person’s focus in doing Hashem’s will is the reward that he will receive in return, his dedication to the task is determined by the benefit it will yield: does the reward justify going great lengths to fulfill this particular mitzvah or not? Additionally, when mitzvot become defined by the degree of difficulty they entail, it isn’t long before a person wrongly concludes that some of Hashem’s commands are simply impossible. Therefore, even before the spies stated their conclusions, Calev already knew to protest their report.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, the lesson from this for you and all of us is that we all have a Divine shlichus — mission — to do in this world. We must study Torah, perform mitzvot, and make this world into a dwelling place for Hashem. There is reward in store for us, but our commitment is not focused on the reward, but rather, we seek absolute submission to His will. And since He willed it so, there is no question that we will succeed to achieve His desires.

May you find it easy to be dedicated to Torah, but even if at times your Yeitzer Hara may throw in an obstacle, be assured as Calev said, “Aloh na’aleh veyarashnu otah ki yachol nuchal lah” — “We will surely ascend and conquer it, for we can surely do it!”


Moshe sent spies to the Land of Israel, instructing them, “See the Land, how is it: are the people who inhabit it strong or weak? Are they few or many? And how is the Land they inhabit: is it good or bad? And how are the cities in which they dwell — are they open or fortified?” (13:18-19).

When the spies returned, they reported, “The people that dwell in the Land are strong, and the cities are fortified, and very great.” Thus, concluded the spies, “We are unable to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we.” Their report caused the people to weep, saying that they would rather return to Egypt. As a result, Hashem delayed B’nei Yisrael’s entry into the Land for forty years. The ten spies were punished and died in a plague.

But what was the spies’ crime? Had Moshe not instructed them to determine those exact details?

The Rebbe, in Likkutei Sichot (vol. 13), explains that their offense was not in their report, per se, but in the mistaken conclusion that they drew based on their findings. Seeing the natural challenges that they would face, the spies concluded that fulfilling Hashem’s command was simply beyond B’nei Yisrael’s abilities.

Moshe, on the other hand, asked about the Land and its inhabitants, but only for tactical purposes — in order to chart the most feasible route for a natural victory. If it would ultimately require miracles, Moshe trusted that Hashem would intervene. He was certain, however, that Hashem’s command to conquer the Land would be fulfilled. It was only a question of the best way to make it happen.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, the story of the spies and their tragic mistake underscores the importance of having “Moshe’s approach” to all the mitzvot commanded by Hashem. For even a human being would not instruct someone to perform a task that he knew the other person was incapable of performing. This is true all the more so, of the Creator, who knows the precise abilities with which He created us, and before Whom there are no miscalculations. We can therefore be certain that if Hashem instructed us to observe the mitzvot, they are all undoubtedly within our reach.