I'm confused regarding several apparently contradictory verses:

Bamidbar 14:33 says that B;nai Yisra'el will wander the desert for 40 years.

In Devarim 1:19 - 22, Moshe says that they arrived at Kadesh Barne'ah, Moshe says "Go inherit the land", and B'nai Yisra'el requests to send spies to spy the land. The verses following that review the story of what happened.

Devarim 2:13-14 says that they arrived at Nachal Zered, and from the time they arrived at Kadesh Barne'a until Nachal Zered was 38 years.

Several questions:

  • Does this "contradict" G-d's original statement / punishment? It seems to imply that people would die during 40 years in the desert, not 38?
  • Where are the other 2 years? Were these 2 years at the beginning of the travels meaning the spies were sent in the 2nd year, so the 40 years included 2 years that had passed?
  • Weren't B'nai Yisra'el supposed to enter Israel immediately after receiving the Torah? Why did they spend 2 years in the desert (assuming answer to prev. question is correct)?
  • If everyone died within only 38 years, it seems that the "punishment" finished early, as Devarim 2:14 implies. So, were the new generation still supposed to wander for another 2 years?
  • judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/1544/… Commented Jul 31, 2014 at 20:15
  • @GershonGold - Thanks for the link. Only slightly related. Not a complete answerm tough.
    – DanF
    Commented Jul 31, 2014 at 20:19
  • They arrived at kadesh barnaya after 1 year. Then, they returned again after 38 years. And then the process of going in took another 1 year.
    – Daniel
    Commented Jul 31, 2014 at 20:20
  • @Daniel - That's plausible. If you can provide sources, it would be an ample answer.
    – DanF
    Commented Jul 31, 2014 at 20:21

2 Answers 2


The first Rashi in Parshat Masei mentions that Israel had 14 journeys during the first year until they arrived at Ritmah (which is Kadesh Barne'a). Then they wandered for 38 years where they had 20 journeys. Then, the final year there were 8 journeys after Aharon died as they went into the land.

The 40 years of wandering in the desert retroactively include the one year that passed before the meraglim caused Israel to be punished. You could say that the sentence included "time served."

  • Thanks. One question on all this. Weren't they supposed to enter Eretz Yisra'el immediately after Matan Torah? Why 1 year in the desert?
    – DanF
    Commented Jul 31, 2014 at 20:56
  • @DanF who says they were supposed to enter immediately after matan Torah?
    – Daniel
    Commented Aug 1, 2014 at 3:23
  • That's my understanding. A question is not an answer to a question.
    – DanF
    Commented Aug 1, 2014 at 12:30
  • @DanF In that case, my answer to your question is that I have never heard that claim.
    – Daniel
    Commented Aug 1, 2014 at 14:41
  • 1
    @DanF: They spent almost an entire year after they received the Torah camped in the Sinai Desert. See Rashi on Bamidbar 10:11. From there they were supposed to enter the Land of Israel in 3 days - see Rashi Bamidbar 10:29, but were delayed time and again because of sins.
    – Menachem
    Commented Aug 8, 2016 at 3:45

Ralbag (in his commentary to Yehoshua Chapter 14) explains that when the Torah said 40 years it left out the word "עד", and it really meant 39 years. He goes through the time-frame and shows how from the time the scouts were sent until Moshe's death was 38 years plus the remainder of the year in which the scouts were sent.

וזה כי בשנה השנית לצאת בני ישראל מארץ מצרים נמנו ישראל כמו שנזכר בפרשת במדבר סיני ואחר מנינם שלח משה המרגלים ולפי שמעת היות משה לפני פרע' עד יום מותו היו ארבעים שנה כי הוא היה בן פ' בעמדו לפני פרע' הנה נשארו מעת בא המרגלים עד יום מותו ל"ח ויותר על זה מה שנשאר מהשנה השנית ולזה ראוי שיובן שמה שאמר בתורה שיעמדו מ' שנה על חטא המרגלים יחס' מלת עד והוא ל"ט שנה

He doesn't explain this part outright, but I imagine he is assuming that when the Torah said 39 (40) it was rounding up to the nearest year and when it said 38 it was rounding down to the nearest year.

R. Saadia Gaon (Emunot V’Deiot 7:2) addresses this tangentially in his discussion of when it is appropriate to depart from the literal meaning of Scripture.

The text of Scripture has merely expressed this thought in round numbers, as it has done in the statement: After which ye spied out the land, even forty days, for every day a year shall you bear your iniquities, even forty years (Num. 14:34). For in reality there were only thirty-nine years, since the first year of Israel’s sojourn in the wilderness did not enter into this punishment.

(Rosenblatt translation p. 266-267

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