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   by Jacob Solomon

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"Your children shall roam in the wilderness for 40 years… like the number of days that you spied out the Land: 40 days, a day for a year, a day for a year… and you shall understand [the consequences of] your straying from Me" (14:33-34)

The main content of the Parasha is the narrative of the Spies. The Israelites believed the ten spies' negative report and its implications, and they were on the verge of rebellion against Moses and Aaron with: "Let us appoint a leader so we may return to Egypt" (14:4). Following Moses' impassioned plea on their behalf, G-d rescinded His decree to wipe out the Israelites with plague, and instead ordered that they may not enter the Promised Land for an entire 40-year period.

The decree, however, appears to lack the usual characteristic of G-d's method of punishment: mida keneged mida - measure for measure. For those who indeed spied out the Land died very soon afterwards: 'in a plague before G-d' (14:37). But the rest appeared to have had nothing to do with the number 40: they simply reacted to the report of the Spies. What direct connection did the Israelites have with the number 40 so that they would be punished 'a day for a year' for 40 years?

In response, the Sforno offers the following insight. G-d had pronounced the sentence of 40 years in the wilderness in the framework of vee-ye-datem et te-noo-a-ti whose standard translation is 'You shall understand [the consequences of] your straying from Me'. Sforno however observes that te-noo-a-ti is written in the singular, so it is likely to refer to G-d rather than to the Israelites. Thus he translates it is 'You will understand the consequences of My straying from you. G-d will be removing His guidance and protection from the Israelites, giving them 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.

Indeed, following the Ramban, (to 10:35), the Israelites left Mount Sinai relieved to be away from the hard spiritual pressures associated with the Giving of the Torah; 'as a child who runs away from school'. But that does mean that they hurried to their ultimate destination, to the Land of Canaan. They traveled in compliance with G-d's will, but not in the spirit of being privileged to enjoy the fruits of G-d's oath to the Patriarchs. By then they had got used to being 'looked after' by G-d's recurrent miracles, through which their day-to-day needs were taken care of. It seems that they were in no hurry to exchange what they had for confronting the well-defended city-states of Canaan.

Thus the Israelites delayed their progress in the desert as far as possible, and were quite pleased to do so for an extra 40 days. Their passive delaying tactics were negating G-d's intent to bring them into the Land. They did not ask Moses to pray to G-d to give the order for the pillar of cloud to lift and march forward to the Land, meeting the spies on their way back. They were quite happy to just 'hang around' until they returned, stalling the journey.

So the Spies' negative report fell on willing ears. Anything to avoid pressing on forwards. It was for those 40 days of stalling that the Israelites were punished yom lashana, yom lashana: as the Sforno puts it, for the days of negating G-d's intent of bringing them into the Land.

[Naturally, some of the Israelites wanted to subsequently enter the Land against G-d's decree (14:44) as many people only realize what they have when it is taken away from them.]

For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at and on the material on the Haftara at .

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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