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Rabbi Sam Shor, in the Torah Tid Bits of Parashas Shelach 5783 (Simchas Shmuel) quotes the Chiddushei HaRim and says that the Chiddushei HaRim says that the original goal of sending out the meraglim - the spies - was not in order to scout the physical qualities of the land, but the spiritual ones. The Chiddushei HaRim seems to quote the posuk in where it says (Bamidbar 13:20):

[...] Whether there are trees in it, or not

The Chiddushei HaRim says that "trees" refer not so much to the physical trees in Eretz Yisrael. Rather, they refer to the Eitz HaChaim - The Tree of Live, e.g. Moshe send out the meraglim to "feel" if the environment of Eretz Yisrael was enriched by Torah (please note that the Gemara says the the air of the land of Yisrael makes one wise). Thanks to @Dov for pointing to the Kedushas Levi that says almost the same.

The Sfas Emes, in his commentary on parashas Shelach, on the other hand seems to explain that because the Canaanites still lived in the land of Yisrael at the time when the meraglim entered, the meraglim (spies) were not able to "feel" the Torah since there was a sort of a "husk" that was hiding it.

What does the Chiddushei HaRim wants to teach us here? Why would the meraglim need to feel if the Torah was in the environment of the land of Israel and if they felt the wisdom of Torah in the air? What was the goal here? While in the desert, they had already busied themselves with learning Torah, as explained by the Rebbe in Dvar Malchus.

שבו הי' כל עסקם בלימוד התורה

So again, why saw Moshe the need to scout for "Torah in the air"?


Edit: Thank you for all the answers so far. There are great answers given. However, they don't seem to answer directly my question on what the Chiddushei HaRim says, e.g. that they needed to find out if they felt Torah wisdom in the air. We still have a day left for the bounty to expire. Let's make this happen :)

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  • I just found a connection between atmosphere of Torah and the meraglim. The meraglim spied the country for 40 days. Moshe Rabbeinu stayed on Har Sinai for 40 days for Torah. Maybe that's a connection too, but I don't remember meforshim observing this same idea?!
    – Shmuel
    Jun 14, 2023 at 20:19
  • no comments on my answer
    – user19400
    Jun 22, 2023 at 15:48

6 Answers 6

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The Kedushas Levi explains a similar approach i.e. that it was not a physical expedition (i.e. to check out the beauty and geography of the land etc.) but rather to verify the spiritual make-up of the land.

היינו שיבאו לארץ כנען לא לתור אותה בגשמיותיה חס ושלום , רק מיד כשיבואו שמה יעמדו על התורה ועל העבודה. וזהו ויתורו, מגזרת תורה. והעיקר כשישראל עוסקים בתורה ובמצות יש להם חלק בארץ ישראל מלבד ירושת אבותיהם, כי יש להם חלק מהתפעלות שלהם, דהיינו מהתורה והמצות. וזהו אשר אני נותן לשון הוה, היינו כשישראל עוסקים בתורה ובמצות אני נותן תמיד ארץ הקודש לבני ישראל אבל לא כן עצת הכסילים הם סברו ששלח משה רבינו עליו השלום לתור ארץ ישראל בגשמותיה.

This means when they came to the land of Israel, it wasn't to spy out the physical attribute G-d forbid, rather so that immediately when they arrive there they will uphold Torah and Tefilla. And this is the reason for the expression "ויתורו" (literally "and they toured") as it connects to the word "Torah". And the main thing is that when Israel engages with the Torah and Mitzvos, they have a share in the Land of Israel aside from the inheritance of their forefathers, because they have a portion of admiration from their own Torah and Mitzvos. This is also the reason for the expression: "‎אשר אני נותן לבני ישראל‎" - “That the land that I give to the ‎Children of Israel” which means in order to engage in the Torah and Mitzvos that I gave constantly to the Bnei Yisroel in the holy land of Israel, but not like the advice of fools who think that Moshe Rabbeinu of blessed memory sent them to spy out the land to see its physical attributes.

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  • I’m not understanding this explanation. He’s saying that the purpose of spying the land was to evaluate how easy it would be for Bnei Yisrael to integrate into the land concerning their Torah and Mitzvot? If that’s the case, why do they need to know that? Why is that relevant? Jun 11, 2023 at 21:49
  • It's relevant to the question which asked why did their spying focus on Torah. So he saying because this was far more important than noting the physical attributes of the land
    – Dov
    Jun 11, 2023 at 21:53
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    It looks like the original poster wanted to know the significance of the spies knowing or “feeling” the Torah in the environment. As per the OP, “Why would the meraglim need to feel if the Torah was in the environment of the land of Israel and if they felt the wisdom of Torah in the air.” Yes, knowing or feeling the Torah in the land is more important than knowing the physical attributes, but the question is why did the spies need to know or “feel” if there was Torah in the environment? Jun 11, 2023 at 21:57
  • @Dov. Thank you very much for adding this in. The Kedushas Levi seems to have the same explanation of the Chiddushei HaRim. I was, as Yaakov Pinchas notes, however looking for an answer to my question: Why would the meraglim need to feel if the Torah was in the environment of the land of Israel and if they felt the wisdom of Torah in the air. Why would that be necessary? Scouting the land seems very logical, especially when speaking of an army scouting the land, to see if there are enemies.
    – Shmuel
    Jun 12, 2023 at 18:39
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R Jonathan Sacks (here) brings the idea that Bnei Israel had to see the Land before they could get attached to it and muster the energy to conquer it. He draws an analogy with the gemara in Kiddushin 41a that one cannot marry a wife without seeing her first.

I think the Chiddushei HaRim comes and add that falling in love was not just with the physical part of Israel but also with its Torah !

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  • Nice addition, thank you. Rabbi Sacks says "The same applies to a marriage between a people and its land. The Israelites were travelling to the country promised to their ancestors. But none of them had ever seen it.". The Chiddushei HaRim however, is talking about Torah. "To feel if they felt the Torah in the environment". To apply the same principle, I would observe that the Jewish People did "see" the Torah. They just had Matan Torah, so they were already familiair with it.
    – Shmuel
    Jun 15, 2023 at 17:48
  • @Shmuel but not how it would be in Israel, so they therefore went to have a look to see how it meshed together
    – larry909
    Jun 18, 2023 at 5:24
  • Okay that makes sense. But what has the response of "But it will be impossible to conquer it" (13:28) have to do with Torah? Moshe asked if they felt Torah in the environment. I still don't get it.
    – Shmuel
    Jun 18, 2023 at 9:51
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The Ben Ish Hai (Sh'lach, Intro) explains Kalev's response to the Jews that since there is so much Kedusha within the nations of C'naan, the Jews themselves must go and fight and Hashem cannot do it for them like he killed the Egyptians. I would assume the "scouting of the air" was necessary to prepare for the war.

לא עשה השם יתברך איבוד הכנענים בידי שמים שלא שלח להם מכות רעות במקומם עדי אובד אותם כאשר עשה להמצריים בארץ מצרים בעשר מכות, אלא גזר שיבואו ישראל לארצותם וילחמו בם ויאבדום בידים, כדי שבירור ניצוצי קדושה מקליפתם יהיה ע"י ישראל שידושו אותם בידים כדרך שעושין בלחם, ובזה מכלה אותם במקומם בידי שמים כאשר עשה להמצריים שלא הצריך לישראל להלחם בם. לזה אמר "כי לחמנו הם", כלומר רצה השם יתברך לעשותם כדוגמת הלחם שצריך להיות בירור שלו בידי אדם בדישה שעושה בו, וכן אלו "סר צלם" -- הוא חלק הטוב "מעליהם"

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  • thank you for sharing this wonderful Ben Ish Chai. He explains the "physical/strategical" scouting (for strategical purposes). The Chiddushei HaRim I quoted however, says that they needed to find out if they felt Torah in the environment. As far as I can tell, the Ben Ish Chai does not explain that.
    – Shmuel
    Jun 19, 2023 at 15:41
  • The Ben Ish Hai is quoting Kalev and Yehoshua's response to be there is a ton of Nitzotzot of Kedusha, so much that we cannot get it through normal means rather we would get swallowed up by the overpowering nitzotzot hidden in the "other side" there. The Chiddushei Harim said the spies were supposed to open the wellspring but according to the BIH the answer was its already open, we have to go there and wage war in order to tap into it without getting damaged then as the Chiddushei Harim writes "גם שיבואו לשם פשוטי בני ישראל ימצאו מים חיים".
    – Mordechai
    Jun 19, 2023 at 20:23
  • Wonderful. My Hebrew is still wip :) Is it maybe possible to elaborate (English translations) more on what the BIH writes and then connects it to the Chiddushei HaRim's explanation?
    – Shmuel
    Jun 19, 2023 at 20:43
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    I added a (very literal) translation to Sefaria. The BIH basically is writing that God did not destroy the Cnaanim like he destroyed the Egyptians because the Jews have to redeem the sparks of holiness that are mixed within the Cnaanim by physically killing them themselves because those sparks wont be purified if God destroyed them. I connected it to the Chiddushei HaRim, the goal of their mission was to see how to fight them, when the spies got back they said it's super holy, therefore God won't fight for us. We have to fight ourselves to remove the sparks from the shell (husk).
    – Mordechai
    Jun 20, 2023 at 21:28
  • I saw it. Wonderful thanks! How do you, according to what the BIH writes, reconcile that the Sfas Emes writes that there was a husk around the wisdom in the air?
    – Shmuel
    Jun 21, 2023 at 15:21
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Spies are brining knowledge to Israel. Before they had only faith in Hashem, now they have a knowledge which gives a room to doubt. What they choose knowledge or faith above the knowledge?

Israel didn't do anything special with spies than Adam did with a tree. That's point of the spies.

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I think… one needs to see sfas emes in achrei mos in תרנא how he explains the knaan as a ערלה covering the milah which is max kedusha . The same is e”y which is max kedusha and hashem hid that light with the tummah of knaan (as the torah writes in achrei )and when jews killed knaan they were eradicating that filth and that is how they removed that HUSK/ ערלה and unveiled the biggest light of kedushas eretz yiroel

When meraglim went they were looking to feel ( in its husk of tumma one cannot see it) that kedusha/hidden light of e”y to report that to moshe and then go fight it’s wicked people and unveil e”y But besides the holy 2 …10 others only saw the worst and felt nothing else that’s waiting to be unveiled and therefore they saw a great ירידה of klal yisroel if exposed to knann

needless to say when the avos were in e”y they clearly saw and felt only kedusha since they were on a deeper level

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  • But... the Chiddushei HaRim says that Moshe sent them to "feel if the air was enriched by Torah". They did not kill any of the Canaanites, so how was that then possible?
    – Shmuel
    Jun 22, 2023 at 16:09
  • they don’t need to kill at this point they just need to feel the kedusha blocked by the tummah. and then they will understand that going into canaan will automatically unveil the hidden treasure. yehoshua and caleb did just that and that’s why they said it’s no threat it’s just a cover on the holy kedusha this is the sfas need in תרנא. u referred to
    – user19400
    Jun 22, 2023 at 16:33
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We are getting there. Until now, I've seen wonderful explanations (see above). However, I am leaving this question open, in order to gather more answers.

In the meanwhile, I would like to share a chiddush based on the words of Rabbi Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal in his work Eim HaBanim Semeicha (Foreword, p. 75ff.).

Rav Teichtal quotes the Mabit (Beis Elohim, Shaar HaYesodos, chapter 32) and explains that Yehoshua was aiming to conquer Eretz Yisrael by means of warfare, the natural way, but G-d explained to Yehoshua that it was going to be through observance of the Torah, e.g. both Torah study and the performance of mitzvos.

The Mabit explains that the words "only be strong and very courageous [...]" refer to the observance of Torah and mitzvos:

Only be strong and very courageous, and observe to do according to all the Tora, which Moshe my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand nor to the left, that thou mayst prosper wherever thou goest. (Yehoshua 1:7)

Rav Teichtal, in quoting the Mabit, says that it refers to the strengthening of our Torah observance (Eim HaBanim Semeicha, p. 76).

Rav Teichtal continues:

I have already pointed out that in order for us to be worthy of inheriting Eretz Yisrael, we must be proper children who follow the ways of our forefathers. The same condition applies when we desire to conquer and take possession of the Land. If we follow the ways of the Torah, as our forefathers did, we will succeed. Yet, if we stray from their path and cease to keep the Torah and its mitzvos, G-d forbid, we have absolutely no portion in our forefather's inheritance.

The Mabit in Beis Elohim (Shaar HaYesodos, chapter 32) then says that:

When Moshe's Torah is our inheritance, then Eretz Yisrael will also be our heritage.

My original question was:"

The Chiddushei HaRim says that "trees" refer not so much to the physical trees in Eretz Yisrael. Rather, they refer to the Eitz HaChaim - The Tree of Live, e.g. Moshe send out the meraglim to "feel" if the environment of Eretz Yisrael was enriched by Torah

Now, I partly can explain this Chiddushei HaRim, based on the words of the Mabit and Rav Teichtal. Moshe instructed the meraglim to find out if they felt the Torah in the environment of the Land. They needed to "spiritually conquer" it. As the Mabit and Rav Teichtal writes, without Torah no Eretz Yisrael, they are connected with each other.

However......... this still does not answer why Moshe instructed the meraglim. The Mabit says that all of this was the case with the conquest of Yehoshua, the episode of the meraglim isn't mentioned in the Mabit's commentary.

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