Parshas Shelach recounts one of the saddest episodes in the history of the Jewish People, the sin of the Meraglim (Spies). Moshe sent a representative, in fact the Nassi, from each tribe to scout out their tribe’s allotted area in Eretz Yisrael. When the spies returned, their report was designed to put Eretz Yisrael in a bad light. The Bnei Yisrael were quick to believe these distinguished men and refused to enter Eretz Yisrael, even though Hashem had promised them how wonderful the land was. As a result, the Bnei Yisrael were punished by having to spend forty years in the desert and that every adult of the generation would not enter Eretz Yisrael. The only adults to survive the trek through the desert were the only two spies to speak good about Eretz Yisrael, Moshe’s prize pupil, Yehoshua, and Calev ben Yefuneh.
This week’s Haftorah tells how after the forty years, the Bnei Yisrael, led now by Yehoshua, prepared to enter Eretz Yisrael. Before bringing the nation across the river into the land, Yehoshua sent spies to scout out the land. The Meforshim are amazed by this. How could Yehoshua, not only someone who lived through the sin of the spies, but someone who was one of the spies himself, potentially make the same mistake again and send spies to scout out the land?
The Malbim shows the difference between the two episodes by examining the exact purpose of sending the spies in each circumstance. He explains that there are two types of people who are sent as advance scouts, תרים and מרגלים. A תר is someone sent to scout out the land to make sure it is good for living. Is it inhabitable, good for growing crops, good climate, etc? In this case, each Shevet had to send one person in order to make sure their needs were taken into account. Furthermore, this person had to be well-respected within his tribe to insure that his word would be trusted. For example, while a prominent person from Shevet Reuven might have already be going, Shevet Zevulun would still send one of their own VIPs since they were looking for a completely different type of area than Reuven as well as the fact that most of the tribe might not even know who this person from Reuven was!
On the other hand, a מרגל is a military spy, someone sent to scout out the land for strategic purposes. The purpose of these spies is all about finding the worst parts of the country, the uninhabited or insanitary places which make them easy incursion points. In this case, not only is each tribe not required to send a representative, it’s probably wiser that they don’t in order that military secrets are not leaked. The only person who need be represented here is the General of the army which means that only a small number of people will go. It also does not matter if they are well-respected, trusted people by the nation at large; the only person who needs to trust them is the General.
This is the difference between the Spies in our parshah and the spies by Yehoshua. Hashem tells Moshe that he can send spies, “וְיָתֻרוּ אֶת אֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן” “and they will scout out the land of Canaan” (Bamidbar 13:2). Hashem told Moshe to send תרים, men whose sole purpose was to see if their tribe’s portion was fit for them to live and thrive, not to come back and say the land is unconquerable! This is also why Moshe sent a representative from each tribe together with the full knowledge of the entire nation; this was simply a tourist trip! However, the Spies treated it like a military mission, and found all the bad parts of Eretz Yisrael. For that reason, we refer to them as the מרגלים. This was the mistake of the Spies and Bnei Yisrael in believing them.
In Yehoshua however, sending מרגלים was exactly what he wanted! Bnei Yisrael were about to enter the land and Yehoshua needed information on how to conquer it. This is why he only sent two men, who aren’t even named in the pasuk since their qualifications are not necessary (unlike in our parshah where each spy is given his own pasuk!). This mission was also carried out without public knowledge since it was purely a military mission. This is why Yehoshua was allowed to do what he did without any issues.
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