Rashi (Bemidbar 13:25) implies that the Jews were in the Sinai Desert for 40 years in response to the spies being in the Land of Israel for 40 days.

While the spies had 40 days worth of planning to sin, and thus were punished, why were the Jews punished for merely accepting the spies’ report? What do they have to do with the 40 days?


3 Answers 3


The Kli Yakar on יום לשנה says that the punishment actually took place one day a year on Tish'a B'Av. Thus they were punished for "forty days" but the forty days were spread over 40 years. The punishment was that all those who should have been in the army and insisted on not listening to the spies (ages 20 to 60) were allowed to live out their "service life" and were punished by dying at age 60. Rabbi Munk says that since those who had turned 60 the previous year died on each Tish'a B'Av, it took forty years for the punishment to complete. This allowed the children (under 20) to grow up and replace them so that there was a fully trained and complete community ready to go into Canaan.

This was actually the manifestation of Hashem's Rachamim (mercy). Note that the medrash says that hashem shortened the time of the meraglim in the land so that the trip would take forty days. Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch says

by fitting this time of the duration of the punishment in proportion to the sin, the sin is kept in the minds of the penitents during the whole course of the duration of the punishment. THis method, by which, simply by using some external similarity of numbers, something is brought to, and kept in, the mind, is frequently used by our sages in their institutions.

Bnei Yisrael had free will and could have resisted the temptation. However, Hashem knew of the possibility of the sin and the necessity of the punishment. As a result, he shortened the trip so that the punishment could be carried out in such a way as to ensure that the lesson had been learned.

  • 1
    How does this answer the question? OP was asking for a link between the spies' actions and the 40 years for the rest of the nation. Commented Jun 15, 2014 at 3:32
  • @YEZ The Kli Yakar was stating that the punishment was that all men in the age range 20 to 60 would die. He says that the punishment was actually 40 days of punishment for 40 days of sin. It just took 40 years at one day a year (Tish'a B'Av). Commented Jun 15, 2014 at 3:37
  • @sabbahillel ok why were the jews punished based of how long the spies were in the land?
    – Shlomy
    Commented Jun 15, 2014 at 3:43
  • @user4784 I added the commentary of Rav Hirsch. Commented Jun 15, 2014 at 4:01
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    @sabbahillel Your addition seems to be the part that answers the question, and the rest is irrelevant to this question. Commented Jun 15, 2014 at 4:06

The Jews were the ones who requested sending out the spies in the first place (Devarim 1:22). By accepting the spies' report when they returned they were endorsing the direction which the 40 day mission they advocated took.

They also attempted to murder Caleb and Joshua, negating 40 days of fruitful work.


According to tosafos yom tov in sota, chapter one mishna nine, d.h. vichein li'inyan hatova, the forty years was an act of kindness, not retribution. In reality the nation deserved instant death but in order that noone die under the age of sixty, Hashem stretched it out for forty years.

  • 2
    even so, why was it based off of the time that the spies were in the land?
    – Shlomy
    Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 3:43
  • why was this downvoted -2??
    – user5535
    Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 11:46
  • Well it seems accordind to this pshat that the basic cheshbon Hashem had was the not dying before 60. The 'yom lashana' was His way of extending the 20 year olds to 60. But that was his vehicle, not his reason.
    – user6591
    Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 13:46

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