Classic Questions

How was the fruit carried? (v. 23)

Rashi: Eight of them took the bunch of grapes, one took a fig and one took a pomegranate. Yehoshua and Calev did not take anything, for the whole intention of the others was to speak about the Land, that just as its fruit is extraordinary, so too are its people extraordinary.

Talmud: Yehoshua and Calev were men of importance, so it was not appropriate for them to carry a load (Sotah 34a).

The Rebbe's Teachings

The Fruit of the Land (v. 23)

In his commentary to verse 23, Rashi writes that Yehoshua and Calev did not join the spies in bringing fruits back from the Land of Israel because “the whole intention of the others was to speak about the Land, that just as its fruit is extraordinary, so too are its people extraordinary.” However, this begs the question: The spies were commanded explicitly by Moshe to “be courageous and take some of the Land’s fruit” (v. 20). So how could Yehoshua and Calev exempt themselves from Moshe’s instructions, just because they suspected their colleagues of foul play?

Was the Mission Aborted?

At first glance we might argue that Yehoshua and Calev understood that the mission which Moshe had charged them with had been aborted. For Moshe had commanded them as a single group to spy the Land and bring back fruit, so as soon as part of the group became corrupt in their intentions, Yehoshua and Calev maintained that the mission had ceased.

However, at the literal level, this explanation is clearly unacceptable, for the Torah states explicitly that Yehoshua and Calev did not abandon their mission at all: “They spoke to the entire congregation of the children of Israel, saying, ‘The Land we passed through to explore is an extremely good land’” (14:7). Likewise, we find other statements of encouragement that they made to the Jewish people in an attempt to fulfill their mission (see 13:30; 14:8-9).

Another possible explanation is that when Moshe requested fruit to be brought back from the Land, he was not concerned about the method (how and by whom the fruits would be brought), but rather, he was interested in the result—that fruits should be brought to inspire the people about the greatness of the Land. So being that the other spies were already taking a sample of grapes, a pomegranate, and a fig, Moshe’s request that fruit should be brought back to the people was already being fulfilled, and Yehoshua and Calev had no personal obligation to actually carry fruit themselves. And since they suspected the other spies of bad intentions, they decided to distance themselves.

However, this too is difficult to accept at the literal level, since Moshe’s words to the spies seem to stress a personal obligation resting on all of the spies to take fruit: “Be courageous and take some of the Land’s fruit” (v. 20). (And it is for this reason that Rashi rejects the interpretation of the Talmud, that Yehoshua and Calev were too important to be burdened with carrying, since Moshe’s words suggest a personal obligation resting on all the spies that they must each take fruit.)

The Explanation

In order to solve this problem, we first need to address Rashi’s comment on verse 27, that the spies reported a mixture of true and false statements, because “any lie which does not begin by saying a bit of truth cannot be sustained in the end.” Rashi, however, does not clarify what exactly was the truth which the spies uttered, and what was their lie.

Maharsha explains that their lie was misrepresenting the Land by claiming that “this is its fruit,” i.e., that the Land only produced delicacies such as grapes, pomegranates and figs, but lacked the vital, sustaining produce of wheat, barley and oil.

However, at the literal level it appears that the truth was the positive statement of verse 27 (“It is flowing with milk and honey, and this is its fruit”), and that the lie was the negative report from verse 28 on (“However...”).1

This explains why Yehoshua and Calev felt that they could not be party to the presenting of fruits to the Jewish people. For while this was indeed part of the “truth” that the spies reported, it was nevertheless a “truth” which was only presented for the sake of validating their later “lie.” As Rashi writes: “Yehoshua and Calev did not take anything, for the whole intention of the others was to speak about the Land.”2

Thus, in the final analysis, we see that to help the spies carry fruit would have been assisting a sin, and for this reason Yehoshua and Calev were exempt from Moshe’s personal command.

(Based on Likutei Sichos vol. 38, p. 48ff)