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   by Jacob Solomon

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G-d said to Moses: 'Send for yourself men and they will spy out the land of Canaan' (13:1-2).

These verses introduce the narrative relating how the Israelites reacted to the negative report that the Spies gave on the Holy Land. They prepared to rebel against G-d and Moses, and forfeited their entry into the Promised Land.

Rashi ad loc derives that the scene for disaster was set in those opening words:

'Send for yourself men.' Only if you want to: I am not commanding you to send them… I have already told you that it is a good land. But because the Israelites descended on Moses, as it relates: 'All of you drew near to me' (Deut 1:22), Moses consulted G-d, who agreed to let him send people to spy out the land, as they wanted. However, G-d said that he would therefore give them an opportunity to err, so that they would not come to inherit the Land'.

That comment creates two problems.

Firstly, G-d used similar language to Abraham, when he commanded him to 'go for yourself, from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father's house, to the Land that I shall show you' (Gen. 12:1). It was an instruction to Abraham: not an 'only if you want to'. And Rashi ad loc comments that 'go for yourself' means - 'for your benefit, for your own good, and there I will make you a great nation'. Why does Rashi not apply that more generous explanation with the Spies?

Secondly, Rashi uses the text from Deut. 1 in support of the Israelites having acted improperly in wishing to get a report on the Land in the first place. But that is not in the text - indeed it implies that the Israelites actually acted in good faith. For the verse states: 'All of you drew near to me saying: "Let us send men in front us so that they may obtain details of the Land. They can tell us what is the best route to take, and what kind of cities there are"'. And Moses continues to recall that 'it was good in my eyes, so I selected twelve men, one from each tribe' (Deut. 1:22-23). They appeared to be after the type of information that any conquering army would wish to have.

In response, Rashi's comment may be explained by the following. Abraham had an agenda. The Israelites also had an agenda, but a very different one. Had their hearts been in the right place, it would have been the same as Abraham's.

Abraham's agenda was to come close to his Creator and follow His commands. Nothing else. All events in his life were dedicated to that end - including his expulsion of his eldest son, Ishmael, from his household, and his near offering of his other son, Isaac. So 'go for yourself' was used for that agenda. It could have been easily abused. He could have reacted in a similar way to Israelites when the Land of Canaan became impossible to live in because of famine - by going back to his home country. Then 'go for yourself' would have had a similar meaning to the one Rashi gives in his comment on the Spies.

The Israelites had a different agenda. They wanted the Promised Land, but spiritually 'on the cheap'. They were not prepared to put in the physical and spiritual efforts of Abraham. Had they done so, 'Send for yourself' would have meant 'for your benefit, for your own good' - to help you conquer the Land. But G-d knew His People, and put a double meaning in His words to Moses. He was using the same words to tell him that they were wrapping into their request their underlying agenda of finding the easy way out (which was to include: 'Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt' - 14:4)

So in fact, Rashi's respective explanations of 'for yourself' with Abraham and with Moses are interchangeable. They illustrate a fundamental of Torah teaching - G-d puts people in situations, but gives them free choice how to handle them. As Moses himself states before his death with the Israelites: 'I am giving you this day life and good, death and evil… and you shall choose life, so that you and your children may live… (Deut.30: 15, 19)

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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