The Torah portion of Shlach relates how Moshe sent 12 individuals to spy out Eretz Yisrael. This was done in order to find out the best and easiest way1 of conquering the land,2 and also to obtain more information about the country and its inhabitants.3

Upon their return, the spies — with the exception of Calev and Yehoshua — committed the grave sin of telling the Jewish people that the land would be impossible to conquer,4 inasmuch as they had witnessed the “inhabitants of the land to be mighty people, who dwelt in fortified cities.”5

Why was the spies’ report considered sinful? They were, after all, sent to find out whether the land’s inhabitants were “mighty or weak” and whether they lived “in open places or in fortified cities.”6 Their response seems to have been entirely appropriate; why is it considered a sin?

In fact, Moshe merely sent the spies to determine the best place from which to start the conquest, and the easiest manner in which it could be achieved by natural means. Since G‑d does not perform miracles unnecessarily,7 the Jewish people had to do as much as possible to conquer the land on their own, even if they would eventually have to rely on a miracle. Moshe, however, was sure that Eretz Yisrael was conquerable, for G‑d had commanded the Jews to conquer it.

Yet the spies went beyond their assigned task. Not only did they tell the Jewish people about the land and its inhabitants, but they drew an unsolicited (and erroneous) conclusion that the land would be impossible to conquer by natural means, although G‑d had so commanded.

The episode of the spies carries an all-important lesson with regard to Torah and mitzvos in general: It is essential to realize that, since all the mitzvos were commanded by G‑d, we must have the ability to perform them, for G‑d requests of man only that which he is capable of fulfilling.8

Even a human being would not request his fellow to undertake a task which he knows to be beyond the latter’s ability; to do so would be senseless. Surely, the Creator of man is fully aware of man’s potential as well as his weakness. When He commands us to perform a mitzvah , we are surely able to do so.

Nevertheless, even as we are armed with the knowledge that we can fulfill our appointed tasks, we are not to rely on miracles.9 Quite the contrary: the fulfillment of mitzvos in a natural manner is of primary importance, since the purpose of performing practical commandments is to achieve a dwelling for the A-mighty in this physical world.

Indeed, this was the primary reason for sending the spies: to ascertain the most natural manner of conquering Eretz Yisrael.

There is yet another lesson to be learned from the episode of the spies: A person should contemplate — “scout out” — the significance of the mitzvah he is about to perform.10 Not only should he realize the significance of that particular commandment, but also the intent of all the mitzvos : that he is about to fulfill G‑d’s Divine will.

This concept is inherent in the blessing made prior to the performance of all mitzvos : “Who has sanctified us with His commandments, and has commanded us….” i.e., by performing a mitzvah, the Jew becomes sanctified11 and united12 with G‑d, the commander of the mitzvah. And this blessing is made prior13 to performing a mitzvah , for it involves the contemplation of its content and purpose — a “scouting out” of the “land.”

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XIII, pp. 39-42