Although the spies' punishment through their tongue makes sense for the lashon hara against the land, what is the 'measure for measure' regarding the worms in their navel?

As Sefaria transcribes and translates Rashi (Bamidbar 14:37)

במגפה לפני ה'. בְּאוֹתָהּ מִיתָה הַהֲגוּנָה לָהֶם, מִדָּה כְּנֶגֶד מִדָּה, הֵם חָטְאוּ בְלָשׁוֹן, וְנִשְׁתַּרְבֵּב לְשׁוֹנָם עַד טַבּוּרָם וְתוֹלָעִים יוֹצְאִים מִלְּשׁוֹנָם וּבָאִין לְתוֹךְ טַבּוּרָם במגפה לפני ה׳ ...They had sinned with their tongue, therefore their tongue grew long extending right down to their navels, and worms came from their tongue and entered their navels.


2 Answers 2


The Be'er Basadeh (commenting on this Rashi) explains that the land of Israel is called the tibor/navel of the world because it is considered the center of the world, just as the navel is the center of the body. He also quotes a drasha of Chazal that includes the idea that the primary power of a worm is [by using] it's mouth, so the worms were selected to punish the spies who used their mouths to sin.

(Gur Aryeh and Be'er HaTorah offer alternate explanations.)



It struck me that the connection between the spies punishment and the discussion in Masechta Sota also can be given as an analogy to the crime of the Sotah. It appears as if the actual punishment appears to be almost the same as the actual punishment of a guilty Sotah after she drinks the water. Note also that the man was punished in the same way as the Sotah.

Just as the Sotah has sinned by adultery (even after having been warned) and that the punishment is through the organs by which she sinned as well as showing the destruction of the future life, so to the meraglim were punished through the organ by which they sinned and the destruction of the future life that they could have created.

Art Scroll Sotah Daf 35a3 note 27 cites Maharal (Chidushei Aggada) that the navel is the place from which life begins (Sotah daf 45b). The tongue is the organ that sets Adam apart from all other creatures in this world (as a medaber). Thus, it is the completion of humanity, while maggots are a symbol of corruption and decay. Just as the meraglim used the final part of their being, to destroy their complete existence, so to did the tongue reach to the beginning of their existence to show that they had become completely corrupt.

Ben Yehoyada connects the navel to Eretz Yisrael (Sanhedrin 37a) as the navel of the world.

They sinned with their tongues, i.e. by speaking slander; therefore, their punishment came via their tongues (Rashi to the verse; Maharsha).

Maharal (Chidushei Aggados) explains why this unusual punishment was appropriate for the spies. The navel is the place from which life begins (see below, 45b). The tongue, as the organ of speech, sets Man apart from other creatures; it thus represents the completion of Man. Maggots represent corruption and decay. The stretching of the tongue to the navel, and the passage of maggots between them, signified that the corruption of the spies encompassed them fully. They had become completely evil, from beginning to end, root and branch (see there for two other explanations; see also Gur Aryeh to the verse).

Alternatively, since Eretz Yisrael, is considered the center, or navel of the world (see Sanhedrin 37a), it is fitting that those who spoke against Eretz Yisrael be punished via their navels (Ben Yehoyada)

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