Send out for yourself men (Numbers 13:2)

“Send out for yourself”—as your mind dictates. I am not instructing you; if you so desire, send. For the people of Israel had come to Moses, saying “Let us send men before us,” as it is written (Deuteronomy 1:22), “You all approached me . . .”; and Moses consulted with G‑d. Said G‑d: I have said that it is a good land. . . . By your life, I shall now give you the option to err . . .

(Rashi; Talmud)


Moses named Hosea . . . Joshua (“G‑d shall save”) (13:16)

He prayed for him: May G‑d save you from the counsel of the spies.

(Talmud, Sotah 34b; Rashi)

Moses named Hosea . . . Joshua (13:16)

The letter yud, which had been removed from Sarai’s name (when she was renamed “Sarah”—cf. Genesis 17:15), was soaring and flying before the divine throne all those years, and saying before G‑d: “Because I am the smallest of the letters, I was taken out of the righteous Sarah?” Until she was added to Joshua.

(Midrash Rabbah)

David pleaded before G‑d: “Sovereign of the Universe! Who can understand his errors?” G‑d: “They are forgiven you.” . . . Implored David: “May my sin (i.e., the incident of Bathsheba) not be recorded in the Torah.” Said G‑d: “That is impossible. If the single letter yud I removed from Sarai continuously protested for many years, until Joshua came and I added it to his name . . . how much more so a complete section in Torah!”

(Talmud, Sanhedrin 107a)

Go up by the Negev (13:17)

That was the dross of the land. Such is the manner of merchants: first they show the lesser-quality merchandise, and then they show the prime merchandise.

(Rashi; Midrash Tanchuma)

See the land, what it is (13:18)

Of what sort is it. For there are lands that produce strong people, and lands that produce weak people; lands that produce large populations, and lands that produce small populations.

(Rashi; Midrash Tanchuma)

They went up . . . and he came unto Hebron (13:22)

Should it not have read “and they came”? But it was Caleb alone who went to Hebron, to pray at the graves of the Patriarchs that he not be enticed to join in the conspiracy of the spies. Thus it is written (Deuteronomy 1:36), “And to him (Caleb) I shall give the land upon which he trod”; and it says (Judges 1:20): “To Caleb they gave Hebron” (as his portion in the Land of Israel).

(Rashi; Talmud, Sotah 34b)

They carried it on a pole, by twos (13:23)

They hung it from two poles, each with two men at each end. Thus it required eight men to carry the cluster of grapes; one carried a fig, and one a pomegranate. Joshua and Caleb did not carry back fruit, for the whole purpose of it was to defame the land: as its fruit is abnormal, so are its inhabitants abnormally large and strong.


We came to the land where you sent us, and indeed it flows with milk and honey . . . (13:26)

Such is the way of defamers: they start off by saying something good, and conclude by saying evil.

Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Meir: Any piece of slander which has not some truth in the beginning, will not endure in the end.

(Midrash Rabbah; Talmud)

We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we (13:30)

They said this even regarding G‑d Himself (the Hebrew word mimenu, “than we,” can also mean “than he”): Even He cannot remove them from there.

(Talmud; Rashi)


It is a land that consumes its inhabitants (13:32)

What was the reason that the spies, who were leaders of Israel and men of lofty stature, did not want to enter the Land?

The explanation of the matter is as follows:

A great majority of the physical mitzvot can be implemented only in the Land of Israel, especially the agricultural laws and the laws of the offerings brought to the Holy Temple. . . . The spies, who were on a most lofty spiritual level, did not wish to lower themselves to the level of physical action, preferring to remain in the desert, where they received all their needs from above, and related to G‑d by means of the loftier levels of thought and speech (i.e., study of Torah and prayer). They desired to draw down all the divine emanations into the “Land of Israel” that exists in the realm of malchut, the world of divine speech, where there also is a “Jerusalem” and a “Holy Temple.” Regarding the physical Land of Israel, they said: “It is a land that consumes its inhabitants”—if the divine light were to be drawn down into the physical world, our entire existence would be nullified.

But Joshua and Caleb said, “The Land is very, very good.” It is specifically in the Land of Israel down below, and specifically by means of the mitzvot implemented by physical action, that the truly infinite light of G‑d is drawn down—a light that includes both the spiritual and the material, which is why it is “very, very” good.

(Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi)

It is a land that consumes its inhabitants (13:32)

The Hebrew word for “its inhabitants” in this verse, yoshvehah, literally means “its settlers.”

Thus the chassidic master Rabbi Yitzchak of Vorka explained the deeper significance of this statement: the Holy Land does not tolerate those who settle down, content with their achievements . . .

We saw there the Nefilim, the giants descended of the fallen ones (13:33)

The descendents of Shamchazai and Azael, who fell from heaven in the generation of Enosh.


When the generation of the Flood took to worshipping idols, and G‑d was saddened, there arose two angels, Shamchazai and Azael, who said to Him: “Master of the Universe! Did we not say to You, when You created Your world, ‘What is man that You make mention of him?’”

Said G‑d: “And the world—what shall become of it?”

Said they: “Master of the Universe! We would suffice for it.”

Said G‑d: “It is known and revealed to Me that if you dwelled upon earth, the Evil Inclination would dominate you, and you would be worse than the sons of man.”

Said they: “Allow us to dwell among the humans, and You shall see that we will sanctify Your name!”

Said G‑d: “Descend and dwell amongst them.”

Immediately they were corrupted.

(Yalkut Shimoni, Bereishit 44)


The people wept that night (14:1)

On the ninth of Av it was decreed that our fathers would not enter the Promised Land.

For we know that the children of Israel decamped from Mount Sinai on the 20th of Iyar (Numbers 10:11), and set forth on a three days’ journey (ibid. 10:33), following which they ate the quail for thirty days (ibid. 11:20). That brings us up to the 22nd of Sivan. Then Miriam was secluded outside of the camp for seven days (ibid. 12:15), following which Moses sent the spies (ibid. 13:1). Thus, the spies went out on the 29th of Sivan. And it is written, “They returned from spying out the land at the end of forty days.” The month of Tammuz was a “full” month (of 30 days) that year, meaning that they returned on the 8th of Av. And it is further written, “All the congregation lifted up their voice and cried; and the people wept that night.” Rabbah said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: That night was the night of the ninth of Av. Said G‑d to them: You have wept without cause; therefore I will set aside this day for a weeping throughout the generations to come.

(Talmud, Taanit 29b)

Five misfortunes befell our fathers on the ninth of Av: it was decreed that our fathers would not enter the Promised Land, the Temple was destroyed the first and second time, Betar was captured, and the city (Jerusalem) was ploughed up.

(Ibid., 26b)

Let the power of my L‑rd be great, as You have spoken, saying: G‑d is long-suffering . . . (14:17–18)

When Moses ascended to heaven, he found G‑d sitting and writing “long-suffering.” Said Moses to G‑d: “Master of the Universe! Long-suffering to the righteous?” Said G‑d: “Also to the wicked.” Said Moses: “Let the wicked perish!” Said G‑d: “See now that you will need this.” When Israel sinned, G‑d said to Moses: “Did you not tell Me to be long-suffering only toward the righteous?” Said Moses to Him: “Did You not say to me, ‘Also to the wicked’?”

(Talmud, Sanhedrin 111a)

G‑d spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them . . . (15:1–2)

At that time G‑d said to Moses: “Go appease them, the poor fellows, as their heart has departed them.”

Said Moses: “Master, how shall I appease them?”

Said He: "Appease them with words of Torah: 'When you come into the Land . . . and you make a fire-offering to G‑d . . .’”

(Seder Eliyahu Rabbah)

When you come into the Land . . . (15:2)

He reassured them that they will, in the end, enter the Land.


They found a man gathering sticks (15:32)

The gatherer was Tzelafchad (whose daughters petitioned Moses to receive his share in the Land—cf. Numbers 27) . . . this is Rabbi Akiva’s view. Said Rabbi Judah ben Beteira to him: “Akiva! In either case you will be called to task. If you are right, the Torah shielded him, while you reveal him! And if not, you cast a stigma upon a righteous man.”

(Talmud, Shabbat 96b)

They found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day (15:32)

The Torah relates the shame of Israel, in that they all kept only the first Shabbat, and on the second Shabbat this one came and violated it.

(Rashi; Talmud)

His intention was for the sake of heaven. For the people of Israel were saying that since it had been decreed that they will not enter the Land because of the incident of the spies, they are no longer obligated to keep the mitzvot. So he went and violated the Shabbat, so that he should be killed and others should see.

(Tosafot, Bava Batra 119b)

Thus he did not truly sin, since “work that is not needed for itself” (as in the case of one who digs a pit but has use only for its earth but not for the pit) does not constitute “work” (melachah) that is in violation of the Shabbat. Nevertheless the court executed him, for a judge can only judge by what he sees, not by the intentions of the heart.

(Maharsha, ibid.)

Those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses (15:33)

This teaches us that a person is not executed for a capital offense unless he is first warned by the witnesses, and then proceeds with the deed despite the warning. (Since the Torah twice emphasizes that “they found him gathering”—i.e., he continued gathering even after they found him doing so).

(Talmud, Sanhedrin 40b; Rashi)

They shall put upon the fringe of each corner a thread of blue (15:38)

Abaye inquired of Rav Samuel ben Rav Judah: How do you dye the blue thread?

He replied: We take the blood of the chillazon together with other ingredients, and put them all in a pot and boil them together. Then we take out a small amount in an eggshell and test it on a piece of wool, and we throw away what remains in the eggshell and burn the wool. One can infer three things from this: 1) that the dye used for testing is unfit; 2) that the dyeing must be for the specific purpose of the mitzvah; and 3) that the dye used for testing renders the rest unfit . . .

Our Rabbis taught: The chillazon resembles the sea in its color, and in shape it resembles a fish; it comes up from the sea once in seventy years, and with its blood one dyes the blue thread. Therefore it is so expensive . . .

If one cannot obtain blue threads, he should insert all white threads.

(Talmud, Menachot 38b–44a)

Why is blue singled out from all the varieties of colors? Because blue resembles the sea, and the sea resembles heaven, and heaven resembles the divine throne, as it is written (Exodus 24:10): “They saw the G‑d of Israel, and at His feet was as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness."

(Talmud, Sotah 17a)

It shall be to you as fringes; and you shall see it (15:39)

Said Rabbi Meir: it does not say “and you shall see them,” but “and you shall see Him” (the Hebrew oto also translates as “him”). This teaches that everyone who fulfills the mitzvah of tzitzit, it is as if he has greeted the face of the Divine Presence. For the blue thread resembles the sea, the sea resembles grasses, grasses resemble the sky, and the sky resembles the divine throne.

(Jerusalem Talmud, Berachot 1:2)

You shall see . . . and you shall remember . . . and you shall do (15:39)

Sight brings on memory, and memory brings deed.

(Talmud, Menachot 43b)

You shall see it . . . and you shall not seek after your heart and your eyes, after which you go astray (15:39)

There was once a man who was very scrupulous about the precept of tzitzit. One day he heard of a certain harlot overseas who took four hundred gold dinars for her hire. He sent her four hundred gold dinars and appointed a day with her. When the day arrived, he came and waited at her door, and her maid came and told her, “That man who sent you four hundred gold dinars is here and waiting at the door”; to which she replied, “Let him come in.” When he came in, she prepared for him seven beds, six of silver and one of gold; and between one bed and the other there were steps of silver, but the last were of gold. She then went up to the top bed and lay down upon it naked. He too went up after her in his desire to sit naked with her, when all of a sudden the four fringes of his garment struck him across the face, whereupon he slipped off and sat upon the ground. She also slipped off and sat upon the ground and said, “By the Roman Capitol, I will not let you go until you tell me what blemish you saw in me.” “I swear,” he replied, “that never have I seen a woman as beautiful as you. But there is one precept which our G‑d has commanded us, called tzitzit, and with regard to it the expression “I am the L‑rd your G‑d” is twice written, signifying: I am He who will exact punishment in the future, and I am He who will give reward in the future. Now the tzitzit appeared to me as four witnesses.” Said she: “I will not leave you until you tell me your name, the name of your town, the name of your teacher and the name of your school in which you study the Torah.” He wrote all this down and handed it to her. Thereupon she arose and divided her wealth into three parts: one-third for the government, one-third to be distributed among the poor, and one-third she took with her in her hand; the bedclothes, however, she retained. She then came to the study hall of Rabbi Chiya, and said to him: “Master, give instructions about me that they make me a proselyte.” . . . Those very bedclothes which she had spread for him for an illicit purpose she now spread out for him lawfully.

(Talmud, Menachot 44a)

You shall not seek after your heart (15:39)

Deducing from this, Rabbi [Judah HaNassi] taught: One may not drink out of one goblet and think of another (i.e., one should not think of another woman when with his wife). Ravina said: Even when both are his wives.

(Talmud, Nedarim 20b)

That you may remember, and do all My commandments, and be holy to your G‑d (15:40)

The strings of the tzitzit are comparable to the case of one who has been thrown into the water, and the captain stretches out a rope and says to him: “Take hold of this rope with your hand and do not let go, for if you let go, you will lose your life!” In the same way, G‑d said to Israel: “As long as you adhere to the commandments, then “you who cleave unto the L‑rd your G‑d are alive, every one of you, this day" (Deuteronomy 4:4). In the same vein it says: “Take fast hold of instruction, let her not go; keep her, for she is your life” (Proverbs 4:13).

(Midrash Rabbah)