In the Torah portion of Shlach, we read about the 12 individuals sent to spy out the land of Eretz Yisrael. Ten came back with an unfavorable report. These 10 are referred to in the Torah1 as eidah , a congregation.

Our Sages derive from this2 that an assembly of 10 individuals constitutes a congregation; matters of holiness that require a minyan for their performance3 may be performed when this minimum number is present, since 10 constitutes a full-fledged congregation.4

How is it that this law is derived specifically from the congregation of spies? Wouldn’t it have been better to ascertain this principle from a congregation of 10 righteous individuals?

Deriving this law from the spies serves as one of the corroborations in the esoteric portion of Torah of the position cited in the esoteric portion: that the spies were indeed highly spiritual men. In other words, not only were they not intent on rebelling, they were “on a very lofty level.”5

The esoteric and exoteric portions of Torah are part and parcel of the one Torah, to the extent that their relationship resembles that of body and soul.6 Even those aspects of the inner portion that do not seem to be in harmony with the simple meaning are also rooted in the revealed aspect of Torah.7

Although according to the simple reading the spies sinned grievously, so that not only were they punished, but as a result of their exhortations an entire generation was forbidden to enter Eretz Yisrael, there is at least an allusion in the esoteric portion of Torah — the deriving of the number needed for a minyan from the 10 spies — that they were in fact on a very lofty level.

Chassidus explains8 that the spies’ reluctance to enter Eretz Yisrael stemmed from their exalted spiritual state; they didn’t want to enter the land, as they would then have to occupy themselves with merely physical matters.

As a consequence of having just received the Torah, the spies wanted to live a cloistered life in the desert, where their physical needs were miraculously provided for by the Manna, Miriam’s Well, and the Clouds of Glory.9 This was certainly the ideal way in which to study Torah and cleave to G‑d, free from all material concerns.

But the spies were mistaken, for there is even greater merit to a life in Eretz Yisrael, performing those mitzvos that are dependent on the Land, and practical mitzvos in general.

Because the spies were on so lofty a level, their error (and especially the fact that they tried to convince the nation to follow them) is considered a grave sin. But because they were such special, holy individuals whose intentions were good, we derive from their number that 10 Jews form a minyan.

That the root of their conduct derived from a sacred source is also to be seen from the following:

The fact is that the nation remained in the desert for 40 years, living precisely the kind of life that these 10 individuals wanted. How is it possible that as a result of the spies’ sin the punishment of the Jewish people was to remain in the desert?

Truly, this is astounding. By having them linger in the desert, G‑d made it possible for the spies to accomplish the very thing they set out to do — keep the Jews out of Eretz Yisrael, free from all material worries, receiving manna from heaven, etc., and occupying themselves solely with spiritual activities.

However, as explained, the spies’ desire was sincere, and in and of itself not incorrect — being enveloped by the Clouds of Glory, etc., is indeed a holy way of life, and a proper preparation for entering Eretz Yisrael. They were merely mistaken in thinking that this was the ultimate form of divine service, and an end in itself.

Spending 40 years in the desert was thus a fit preparation for the Jews’ ultimate level of service, which was achieved after they entered Eretz Yisrael.

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXXIII, pp. 85-87.