The Torah portion of Shlach relates how the men sent to spy out Eretz Yisrael returned and reported that the country was unconquerable. The Jewish people, they said, would be unable to enter the land, since “The inhabitants of the land are mighty.”1

Furthermore, say our Sages,2 the spies went so far as to say that even G‑d would not be able to wrest the land from its inhabitants. Their words caused great consternation among the Jews, who feared that they would be unable to enter Eretz Yisrael.

How was it possible for the spies to mislead the Jewish people and convince them that even G‑d could not help them, when the Jews themselves had constantly witnessed the miracles performed on their behalf, e.g., G‑d provided their daily food and drink in a miraculous manner — manna from heaven and water from Miriam’s well.

The Jewish people also experienced supernatural victories over their enemies: when they were pursued by the Egyptians, G‑d Himself split the sea for them. They should have understood that just as G‑d had performed miracles for them in their war with Egypt, He would also perform miracles for them in their battle for Canaan.

Chassidus explains3 that the spies did not want to enter Eretz Yisrael, preferring to remain in the desert, because they did not want to descend into the realm of the material and occupy themselves with the mundane.

While the Jews were in the desert they were cut off from the material world; even their food and drink transcended materiality, and their clothing grew along with them.4

However, upon entry into Eretz Yisrael the manna ceased and they were forced to eat physical bread, which involved physical labor such as plowing, sowing, etc. At that time they also ceased receiving their water from Miriam’s well. The spies preferred the wholly spiritual lifestyle of the desert.

Despite their lofty idealism, the spies’ aspirations were misplaced: The intent of the Jew’s creation is to make a dwelling place for G‑d within the nethermost level by transforming the physical into a vessel for G‑dliness. This they could only do in Eretz Yisrael , for it was only there that the primary manner of spiritual service consisted of performing physical mitzvos.

The change in lifestyle which the Jews would have to undergo in order to enter Eretz Yisrael explains the logic underlying the spies’ claim that even G‑d could not conquer the land for them: They reasoned that the miracles G‑d had performed on behalf of the Jewish people while they lived in a supranatural state would not continue should they embark on a lifestyle which deals with the material world in a natural manner.

Seemingly, the logic of the spies was impeccable; where did they err?

The spies mistakenly thought that only two kinds of conduct are possible — the natural and the supernatural — and that these are mutually exclusive. In truth, G‑d is not bound to these two paths, for He equally transcends both the natural and the supernatural; furthermore, He is quite capable of combining the two.

Therefore, since G‑d desired that the Jews provide Him a dwelling place by performing physical mitzvos in Eretz Yisrael, the Jews had nothing to fear from the inhabitants; although the world retains its natural characteristics, G‑d would guarantee the Jewish people — as they exist in a natural state — success that is truly supernatural.

Based on Likkutei Sichos Volume IV, pp. 1041-1044.