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In Bemidbar 13:20, when Moses instructs the spies he tells them to bring back from the fruit of the land. As he didn't specify certain fruits, we would assume that he meant that they should bring a sample of all of them, i.e., all 7 species.

When the spies returned, they brought back a sample of only grapes, figs and pomegranates, as we see in verse 23.

Why didn't the spies bring back samples of wheat, barley, dates, and olives?

  • Rav Avraham Schorr in his Sefer HaLeakach V'Halibuv has a piece on this with a more Chassidish/Kabbalistic approach. – TrustMeI'mARabbi Jun 15 '17 at 19:42
  • They had their hands full already with what they currently were bringing – Earl Jun 15 '17 at 19:48
  • @Earl No, they didn't. Read Rash"i's explanation on the 1st verse that I cited above. He explains that between all 12 spies, they could have easily carried a sample of everything. – DanF Jun 15 '17 at 20:38
  • @DanF maybe if all 12 spies were in on the plot but they weren't. see Rashi where he says they needed 8 spies just to carry the grape – Earl Jun 16 '17 at 2:00
  • Interesting approach from the Chasam Sofer to add to the discussion: youtube.com/watch?v=Pd9znK5-HEA – Baruch Jun 16 '17 at 3:15
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See Siftei Chachamim letter ר on verse 23. Essentially, the spies did this intentionally so that they could speak badly about the land, namely, that this was the only fruit that the land produces.

(My thoughts, here:) This explanation is confirmed by what they said in the end of verse 27 by saying "...this is its fruit", meaning "its only fruit". I.e., they didn't qualify anything by saying something like "this is a sample of the various types of fruit."

  • Then why did they pick these specifically? They should have brought from the most inferior fruit of the land - or, better yet, just brought one fruit, not all three. – DonielF Jun 15 '17 at 20:24
  • @DonielF That's an interesting question. Only the grapes seem to be pretty obvious, because the verse emphasizes that when they went, it was grape ripening season. As Rash"i states, near the beginning of the spies' report, every lie has some element of truth. So, I assume that they had to show something truthful, and the grapes were the best truthful part. Perhaps, the pomegranates and dates were also the best quality at that time, or it may just have been most convenient to obtain. – DanF Jun 15 '17 at 20:36
  • Perhaps. Maybe they wanted to show that it wasn't just the grapes that grew at such a large size. Just asking a follow-up question; this still validly answers the OP's. – DonielF Jun 15 '17 at 20:39
  • @DonielF You have an interesting question. Ask it as a separate one. – DanF Jun 15 '17 at 20:40
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As @Ezra correctly notes in his answer, The pasuk clearly says (Bamidbar 13:20):

What is the soil like is it fat or lean? Are there any trees in it or not? You shall be courageous and take from the fruit of the land." It was the season when the first grapes begin to ripen.

I discuss a related issue (why point to the ripening of the grapes if they also bring pomegranates and figs) in a blog post, here, where I point to a chart from Agriculture in Iron Age Israel (Oded Borowski, 1987, page 7), which tries to fix the seasons in Ancient Israel on the basis of harvesting in modern Israel, under the theory that the climate in the same geographical location would be the same across eras:

table of harvest times of various produce in Israel

This would address @DoubleAA's question / comment on @Ezra's answer,

If none were in season, then why did they bring pomegranates with the grapes?

As you can see from the chart, figs and pomegranates were not yet ripe, but were almost there, and could be brought by the scouts to a waiting Hebrew populace eager to sample the fruits of Israel.

Olives only ripened months later. And wheat, barley and oats had already ripened and been harvested months earlier.

  • I worked this out (comment on question), but got stuck on dates. Why no dates? – Double AA Jun 19 '17 at 2:45
  • Notably also, the Midrash about the spies arriving back on Tisha Bav fits with a ~July visit. – Double AA Jun 19 '17 at 2:46
  • @DoubleAA, Regarding dates, the chart unfortunately didn't include it, so it is difficult to place it relative to figs / pomegranates vs. olives in this lovely chart, but some web searching puts it in September, e.g. here, freshplaza.com/article/112462/… Others place it in Aug / September. But it would have been nice to have it in the same chart. – josh waxman Jun 19 '17 at 11:17
  • @DoubleAA and regarding the midrash, not every midrash is historically true, such that this is a problem. And if it is historically true, then that would just tell me that the seasons shifted vis a vis the solar year. The pasuk says that this was bikurei anavim, when the first grapes began to ripen, and other fruit are not going to suddenly ripen at the same time of year. – josh waxman Jun 19 '17 at 11:20
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    However, another good answer may be that wheat and barley are not "fruits", and olives and dates are not mentioned as fruit either, but at "oil and honey", where we deduce that they come from olives and (rather than bees) dates. These are not listed primarily for their quality as fruit. – josh waxman Jun 19 '17 at 11:26
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The word used in verse 20 is From the fruit of the land מפרי הארץ. This prefix means taking a part of something bigger while leaving something else behind. We find this in many places in Chumash. An example of this is also in Parshas Shelach 15:21 where the Pasuk says מראשית עריסתיכם. See Rashi here where he says it means to take Challah from part of the first dough but not the entire first dough. Another place we find this concept is in the beginning of Varikra Perek 1 verse 2 where Rashi infers from the prefix from that it's to the exclusion of something else. There are other places this is true as well, such as by the Mitzva of Bikurrim in Devorim 26:2. See Rashi there.

Therefore, since Moshe Rabbeinu said to take from the fruit of the land and not from the entire fruit of the land, they didn't take from all 7 species.

  • This is a speculative answer, at this point, as it is unsourced. Definitions used in one place do not necessarily transfer to other places, as there are numerous exceptions. Most of the commentaries on this verse do not support this translation. There may be some validity to your translation in that the singular word פרי is used by Moses. So, he may have meant to take from just one fruit (possibly the grapes). But, as we see, they brought back figs and pomegranates, too. – DanF Jun 16 '17 at 13:25
  • @DanF can you provide exceptions you mention in your comment where the rule about a part from the whole doesn't apply? I brought 3 places where this concept is true. Unless proven otherwise I posit that the translation in one place means the same everywhere else the prefix is used. – Earl Jun 16 '17 at 13:32
  • @DanF while you are entitled to your down vote I think it is a valid if not original answer to your question. – Earl Jun 16 '17 at 14:00
  • I downvoted because I feel that your answer is not sufficiently sourced, at this point. I understand the attempt to provide support from language used in other places. However, as I mentioned, that, alone, is insufficient to show that it means the same thing, here. If you can show that the same definition applies, here, I have no issue retracting the vote. – DanF Jun 16 '17 at 14:07
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The passuk clearly says (Bamidbar 13:20):

What is the soil like is it fat or lean? Are there any trees in it or not? You shall be courageous and take from the fruit of the land." It was the season when the first grapes begin to ripen.

Simply put, none of the other seven species of Israel were in season but the grapes.

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    If none were in season, then why did they bring pomegranates with the grapes? – Double AA Jun 19 '17 at 2:18

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