I am combining concepts from this week's Torah and Haftarah:

In the Torah portion, it says with the spies that they went לתור את הארץ (Bamidbar 13:16). With Yehoshu'a it says לחפר את הארץ (Yehoshu'a 2:2). Both of them spied the land. But, I assume that there is a difference in meaning of these two words, that hints at why Moshe was unsuccessful, and Yehoshu'a was successful. (I'm aware that the obvious reason is that Yehoshu'a learned from Moshe and didn't make the same mistakes, and that we were dealing with a different group of people and mindset. I am seeking a reason for the success that may be hinted to in the meaning / choice of these two words.)

  • related judaism.stackexchange.com/q/36891/759
    – Double AA
    Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 18:46
  • The Shla Hakadosh explains this
    – sam
    Commented Jun 15, 2014 at 1:57
  • Rav Hirsch writes about this....starts at the bottom of page 238 here....will try to find it again in my shul copy, maybe work it into an answer
    – MTL
    Commented Jun 15, 2014 at 4:32

2 Answers 2


The Malbim in Sefer HaKarmel says that חפר is a more focused mission, an in-depth investigation into one location, as opposed to לתור, which is a scouting mission which sees the whole land but is not as in-depth.

Malbim does not explain this in connection with the success and failure of the missions, but perhaps the failure of the first mission was that they looked superficially, and they therefore saw the rampant funerals as signs of the negativity of the land, as opposed to what they would have seen had they looked deeper, that Hashem was distracting the inhabitants in order to facilitate the safety of their mission (See Rashi to 13:22

אוכלת יושביה. בכל מקום שעברנו מצאנום קוברי מתים. והקב"ה עשה לטובה כדי לטרדם באבלם ולא יתנו לב לאלו:

). The spies sent by Yehoshua were able to see that Hashem had cast fear into their hearts and had given the city in their hands.


Actually in Devarim 1:22 the term ויחפרו is used. But as will be explained, Moses did not send out the 12 leaders for ויחפרו:

In the next verse, 1:23, see Rashi, he says Moses agreed to send out spies only in order for them to feel more comfortable about conquering the land, and he hoped they would change their mind when they saw that Moses was confident about conquering the land. But really he himself felt is was unnecessary because he was confident since God said they would get the land. But that's not what happened. They still wanted to spy.

At that point, he decided to consult with God, but he had something else in mind. He felt it would benefit the nation in another way. It would excite the Israelites to see the wonderful produce of the land "so they would ascend to it with great eagerness." (the quote is from Ramban beginning of Shelach). And by the by it may placate the nation, because it will seem to them that people are being sent to the land for the purpose they requested.

And this is what he was advised to do by God. This is why in Shelach God says send אנשים - "men" not מרגלים "spies", and why it says ויתורו - which can be translated as and they shall scan out or scour as opposed to the more intensive ויחפרו, to dig and excavate, that which should have remained hidden. This is also why the 12 leaders were sent out, because they knew the wants and interests of their specific tribe, and why all 12 of them went through the entire length of the land and they didn't split up, because no one knew yet where his personal tribe's portion laid, because the lottery was not yet performed. So they made sure to scout the entire land, including their own future portion. And everyone knew about this task, which is uncharacteristic of a spy mission.

On the other hand, by Joshua, who "sent out two men to spy secretly"- שנים אנשים מרגלים חרש. It was two regular men, not leaders of the nation. And only two- the more under the radar the better. And they were to be spies. They only ended up going to Jericho, because as soon as they heard from Rahab that their terror was upon the hearts of everyone in the land, and there was no more "courage in any man, because of you", 2:9-11,there was no more need to spy further.

From a talk of Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, Shelach 1991.

  • I didn't follow how the intensive חפר applies to Joshua's spies in your explanation - aren't they less intensive as you explain? Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 19:37
  • Spying is more "intensive" than finding good produce.
    – gaagu
    Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 19:41
  • @YEZ An analogy that I saw compares a congressional junket or "fact finding committee" (Moshe) to a CIA or Mossad mission (Yehoshua). In fact, I have seen that the reference to לתור is actually more like "tourism". After all can there be anything more obvious than the way they went about their travels in the time of Moshe? Even the "two men" could not disguise their origins. Commented Jun 15, 2014 at 3:44

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