Send out for yourself men,” says G‑d to Moses in the opening verses of this week’s Parshah, “that they may spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel.”

Moses sends twelve men—one from each of the twelve tribes of Israel—“every one a prince among them.”

Moses’ faithful disciple, Hosea the son of Nun, is the spy for the tribe of Ephraim. Before he goes, Moses adds the letter yud to his name, renaming him Joshua (“G‑d shall save”).

He said to them: “Go up this way by the Negev (south), and go up into the high land.

“See the land, what it is; and the people who dwell in it, whether they are strong or weak, few or many. And what the land is that they dwell in, whether it is good or bad; and what cities they dwell in, whether in the open or in strongholds. And what the land is, whether fat or lean, whether there are trees in it, or not.

“Be of good courage, and bring of the fruit of the land.”

Now the time was the time of the first ripening of grapes.

An Evil Report

So they went up, and searched the land from the wilderness of Zin to Rechov on the way to Hamath.

They went up into the Negev; and he came to Hebron. And there were the giants Achiman, Sheshai and Talmai . . .

They came to the wadi of Eshkol, and cut down from there a branch with one cluster of grapes, and they carried it on a pole, by twos; and they brought of the pomegranates, and the figs . . .

They returned from searching the land after forty days.

They show the people the magnificent fruits they brought, and say:

“We came to the land where you sent us, and indeed it flows with milk and honey; and this is its fruit.

“But the people that dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified, and very great; and moreover we saw the giants there.

“Amalek dwells in the land of the Negev, the Hittites and the Jebusites and the Emorites dwell in the mountain, and the Canaanites dwell by the sea and by the side of the Jordan.”

Caleb, the spy from the tribe of Judah, interrupts his colleagues and silences the murmuring people to cry out: “We shall go up and possess it! For we are well able to achieve it.”

But the men who went up with him said: “We are not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we.”

And they spread an evil report of the land which they had spied out to the children of Israel, saying: “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that consumes up its inhabitants . . .

“There we saw the nefilim, the giants, descendents of the fallen ones. We were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.”

The People Weep

All the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night.

All the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron, and the whole congregation said to them: “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt, or would that we had died in this desert! And why has G‑d brought us to this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? Were it not better for us to return to Egypt?”

They said to one another: “Let us appoint a chief, and let us return to Egypt.”

Only Caleb and Joshua call on the people to trust in G‑d’s ability to bring them into the land.

“How long will this people provoke Me?” says G‑d to Moses. “How long will they not believe in Me, for all the signs which I have performed among them?

“I will smite them with the pestilence and annihilate them; and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.”

Forty Years

Once again, Moses intercedes on behalf of his people. “If you shall kill all this people as one man,” he argues before G‑d, “then the nations which have heard the fame of You will speak, saying: Because G‑d was not able to bring this people into the land which he swore to them, therefore He has slain them in the wilderness.”

Then he evokes the divine attributes of mercy:

And now, I pray, let the power of my L‑rd be great, according as You have spoken, saying: G‑d is long-suffering, and great in love, forgiving iniquity and transgression . . .

Pardon, I pray, the sin of this people according to the greatness of Your love, and as You have forgiven this people, from Egypt until now.

And once again, Moses prevails.

G‑d said: I have forgiven according to your word.

I shall not destroy them, says G‑d. However, this generation will not see the Promised Land.

Say to them: As I live, says G‑d, as you have spoken in My ears, so will I do to you.

Your carcasses shall fall in this desert; and all that were numbered of you . . . from twenty years old and upward, who have murmured against me, shall not come into the land of which I swore to make you dwell there. Except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun.

Your little ones, who you said would be a prey—them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which you have despised. But as for you, your carcasses shall fall in this desert.

Your children shall wander in the desert forty years. . . . According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land—forty days, for each day a year, for each day a year—shall you bear your iniquities: forty years . . .

G‑d instructs Moses to turn back, away from the land of Canaan, and go back into the desert. The ten evil-reporting spies die in a plague.

When Moses conveys G‑d’s words to the people, they are filled with remorse. Now they are prepared to enter the Promised Land despite all, even in defiance of the divine decree.

“It shall not succeed,” says Moses to them. “Go not up—for G‑d is not among you—so that you may not be smitten before your enemies. For the Amalekites and the Canaanites are there before you, and you shall fall by the sword. . . . G‑d will not be with you."

But they presumed to go up to the hilltop; but the ark of the covenant of G‑d, and Moses, departed not out of the camp.

Then the Amalekites came down, and the Canaanites who dwelt in that hill, and smote them, and routed them as far as Chormah.

More Mitzvot

In the aftermath of the incident of the spies, G‑d instructs Moses on a series of mitzvot to be observed “when you come into the land into which I bring you.”

The menachot are meal, wine and oil offerings that are to accompany all animal offerings brought to G‑d in the Holy Temple. (For a lamb, 1/10 ephah of meal, 1/4 hin of oil and 1/4 hin of wine; for a ram, 2/10 ephah of meal, 1/3 hin of oil and 1/3 hin of wine; for cattle, 3/10 of an ephah of meal, 1/2 hin of oil and 1/2 hin of wine.)

A portion of the dough, called challah, is to be separated and consecrated to G‑d when making bread.

Some of the laws of the various sin offerings (recounted in the book of Leviticus) are repeated as well.

The Stick-Gatherer

The children of Israel were in the desert. And they found a man gathering sticks upon the Sabbath day.

Those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron, and to all the congregation. They put him in custody, because it was not declared what should be done to him.

G‑d said to Moses: “The man shall be surely put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” So all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him with stones, and he died; as G‑d commanded Moses.


“Speak to the children of Israel,” says G‑d to Moses, “and tell them that they should make themselves fringes (tzitzit) on the corners of their garments throughout their generations,

“and they shall put upon the fringe of each corner a thread of blue.

“It shall be to you as fringes. You shall see it, and remember all the commandments of G‑d, and do them, and you shall not seek after your heart and your eyes, after which you go astray. That you may remember, and do all My commandments, and be holy to your G‑d.

I am the L‑rd your G‑d, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your G‑d: I am the L‑rd your G‑d.