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Refer to Avot D'Rebbi Natan ch. 9 (ver. א. In summary, he comments on

Numbers 14:22:

surely all those men that have seen My glory, and My signs, which I wrought in Egypt and in the wilderness, yet have put Me to proof these ten times, and have not hearkened to My voice;

Listing what the 10 trials were, Avot D'Rebbi Natan states that B'nai Israel was not punished for any of the previous 9 trials, but this 10th one, when the spies spoke lashon hara was the most severe, and for this they were punished.

We see, however, that in Numbers 12:10, when Miriam spoke lashon hara about Moses, she was afflicted with tzara'at. So, we learn that tzara'at is a common punishment for lashon hara.

Why weren't the spies afflicted with tzara'at instead of death?

  • Wait... many people DIED as a result of their "ten tests of God." How is that NOT punishment? This was the only time they were UNIVERSALLY sinning, whereas before there were always exceptions. The punishment of the spies wasn't for Lashon Hara, it was for inciting the entire nation to rebel against Hashem, and a mored bimalchus is chayiv misah. They could very well have been liable to receive tzara'as, but they never had a chance to get it... – Isaac Kotlicky Jun 19 '15 at 15:22
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Their sin was too great for tzaraat and therefore they were punished with death.

The general principle is that if a bigger punishment is given the lesser one is withheld. For example someone who sets fire to an object on Shabbat and gets stoned to death for it does not have to compensate the damage too.

You might be asking, why not tzaraat "instead" of death (rather than as-well-as). In which case I haven't answered that but I can answer why they weren't given both.

The death they were given was "heavenly", i.e. G-d killed them and they were not tried before Beis-Din.

A possible explanation as to why G-d chose death rather than tzaraat is that the consequences of their sin was too big for "kapara" that comes with tzaraat. In a way tzaraat is a kind of "severe warning" to someone to change their ways and a public disgrace to them, for themselves having caused harm to someone else with their words. In this case, as they had caused an entire generation to sin and lose the right to go into Eretz Yisrael, it was probably too much for one week outside the camp.

  • I appreciate your effort. But,it doesn't answer my question. I guess I should edit my question to specify tzara'at INSTEAD of the punishment they received. The last sentence seems to explain the reason AFTER the punishment was given. I.e. - the punishment itself was losing the right to go to Israel. It was not the sin, as I am inferring when you state that they harmed them. The harm might have been that they made a discouraging report, but, clearly, the rest of the people chose on their own to believe the majority rather than Calve & Yehoshua. They were equal "courts" (batei din). – DanF Jun 19 '15 at 14:14
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They spoke Loshon Hara about Eretz Yisrael. Perhaps there is no tzara'as in that case.

  • You would need some source to back this claim. If you read Avot D'Rav Natan, which I linked to, see the kal vachomer. It works in ascending order, there. I.e. - they were punished for speaking about land, how much more so should people be punished speaking about other people. The kal vachomer direction could be reversed regarding tzara'at, technically. – DanF Jun 9 '15 at 13:48
  • From the kal v'chomer we see just the opposite...loshon hara against man is worse then an inanimate object. We know that there is tzora'as from L"H on man, but maybe that's because its a worse sin. – blockhead Jun 9 '15 at 13:54

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