The passage entitled Shlach relates how Moshe sent 12 upstanding individuals1 to spy out Eretz Yisrael. The spies returned from their mission and reported that the country was not for the Jews, since “it is a land that consumes its inhabitants.”

Chassidus explains2 that the spies had no desire to enter Eretz Yisrael, preferring instead to remain in the desert. This preference reflected their reluctance to descend into the realm of the mundane.

When the Jewish people were in the desert, they were completely removed from the corporeal world; their food was manna from heaven, their drink was water from the miraculous Well of Miriam, and their clothing grew along with them.3

Upon their entry in Eretz Yisrael, the manna would cease and they would be forced to toil for their bread; the water from Miriam’s Well would halt, etc. The spies, spiritual individuals as they were, therefore much preferred their current wholly spiritual lifestyle.

They therefore called Eretz Yisrael “a land that consumes its inhabitants.” They meant by this that if the Jews were to enter, they would be consumed by their material needs and would no longer be able to live the spiritual life they enjoyed in the desert. This was especially true with regard to their not being able to receive manna , a food that refined them and made them capable of receiving and expounding the Torah.4

Despite their lofty idealism, the spies were sadly mistaken, for the purpose of the Jewish people is to transform the physical world into a dwelling place for G‑dliness. For this to be accomplished, the Jews had to enter Eretz Yisrael, for it was specifically there — and not in the desert — that their spiritual service would consist of performing mitzvos and serving G‑d while being involved with the physical world.

There is a lesson here for all of us. All Jews experience two stages in their daily lives, that of the “desert” and that of “Eretz Yisrael.” A Jew begins his day with prayer and study — the “desert.” Even though he will don tallis and tefillin — mitzvos that involve physical objects — he is still not encumbered by the limitations of the corporeal world.

However, once he has concluded his prayer and study he must enter the physical world — Eretz Yisrael — occupying himself with material matters. He then must serve G‑d in an entirely different manner, so that his permitted actions are done for the sake of heaven, and he endeavors to know G‑d in all that he does.

A person might well think that as long as he is immersed in spiritual pursuits it is not too difficult to divorce himself from physical matters and devote himself entirely to G‑d. But once he enters the world outside (and the Torah itself commands him to do so in order to make a living), how is he expected to avoid being consumed and delighted by it, and remember that his whole purpose and delight in life should be found in serving G‑d?

Moreover, the person may well say to himself that by being occupied with mundane affairs for most of the day, not only will he be unable to concentrate on serving G‑d, but he will be hindered in his prayer and Torah study as well; the mundane world will consume him. Possibly thoughts about his business affairs, etc., will enter his mind during prayer and study, and impede his concentration.

The Torah therefore informs us that these same fears were experienced by the spies. They too feared that leaving the spiritual environs of the desert for Eretz Yisrael would result in a tremendous impairment of their spiritual service.

The truth, however, is that Torah and mitzvos must be performed within the confines of nature; a Jew knows that when he is acting within nature because this is G‑d’s desire, then nothing can stand in his path. He is given the strength to unite nature with the spiritual, and transform the entire world into a dwelling place for Him.

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. IV, pp. 1041-1046.