In Bemidbar 13:27 Rash"I cites Midrash Rabba that says "there is no lie without an element of truth within it."

In reading what the spies said about the giants who lived in Cana'an, and that they appeared as grasshoppers in their own eyes and in theirs, I see an opinion, not a lie. Was it a lie to say that they could not conquer them, or is that just their own "honest" opinion? Otherwise, I'm not seeing what they lied about.

  • Well, since we're going in Rashi, sefaria.org/…
    – Heshy
    Jun 7, 2018 at 18:28
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    You might enjoy this wonderful dvar Torah from R Sacks on how the spies were really lying to themselves - or being distorted in their views by cognitive biases; hot off the press !
    – mbloch
    Jun 7, 2018 at 18:47
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    @mbloch IY"H will view this eve. Rav Sacks is terrific. The spy incident, I find, is one of the most perplexing and "troublesome" stories in Tanac"h. It's bothered numerous commentators, and rabbanim for millennia. I think one of the most important lessons is the verse that they compared themselves to grasshoppers. Others will readily reflect any image you have of yourself - both positive as well as negative.
    – DanF
    Jun 7, 2018 at 18:59
  • @DanF he brings this up but also the amazing fact that the locals were very afraid of the spies/explorers (as learned from sefer Yeoshua) - he goes at length on the cognitive dissonance between reality and how the explorers felt about that reality. Worth reading (it is not a video)
    – mbloch
    Jun 8, 2018 at 2:45

3 Answers 3


Bamidbar - Numbers - Chapter 13


  1. וַיֹּצִ֜יאוּ דִּבַּ֤ת הָאָ֨רֶץ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר תָּר֣וּ אֹתָ֔הּ אֶל־בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל לֵאמֹ֑ר הָאָ֡רֶץ אֲשֶׁר֩ עָבַ֨רְנוּ בָ֜הּ לָת֣וּר אֹתָ֗הּ אֶ֣רֶץ אֹכֶ֤לֶת יֽוֹשְׁבֶ֨יהָ֙ הִ֔וא וְכָל־הָעָ֛ם אֲשֶׁר־רָאִ֥ינוּ בְתוֹכָ֖הּ אַנְשֵׁ֥י מִדּֽוֹת "They spread an [evil] report about the land which they had scouted, telling the children of Israel, "The land we passed through to explore is a land that consumes its inhabitants, and all the people we saw in it are men of stature."

Ramban, Bamidbar 13:32-14:1 https://www.sefaria.org/Ramban_on_Numbers.13.32?lang=bi

To summarize:

According to the Ramban, after Caleb spoke in verses 30-31 in verse 32 (shown above) they had already left the presence of Moses and Aaron at this point. This is where they began to say to the people in their tents that the land consumes its inhabitants.

The spies claim that the Land was deadly contradicted what they had said earlier about the fertility of the Land in front of Moses and Aaron that it flows with milk and honey [at Shelach, 13:27]. This was one of the lies they perpetrated to the people in their tents but not while in front of Moses and Aaron. They also embellished their wording to incite despair so the people would not be willing to fight.

Later, in 13:33 they exaggerated their description of the Anak calling them Nephilim descendents of Anak to try to frighten and terrify the people further. (This differs from their description of them in 13:23 where they are referred to merely as יְלִידֵ֖י הָֽעֲנָ֑ק 'descendants of Anak'.)

After some searching I am doubtful whether Anak are truly descendants of Nephilim. It appears the spies lied (with maybe some possibility in their minds that it could be true to justify portraying such a lie). I have not come across any hard evidence. How would the spies truly know the sons of Anak were from Nephilim besides some 'weak unverified evidence' of their historical account which the Ramban addresses in his commentary at 13:33. This seems to be the way (at least I interpret) the Ramban is portraying this idea of the spies having lied.

הם "מן הנפלים" הקדמונים אשר שמעתם עליהם כי המה הגבורים "אשר מעולם אנשי השם" (בראשית ו ד). They are from "the Nephilim" of the ancient times whom you have heard about them for they were the mighty, "who are from old, men of reknown".

ולפי שהיה ענין הנפילים שבדורות נח נודע בעולם, הזכירו להם שאלו בני הענק מהם, כדי ליראם ולבהלם. ולכך אמרו עתה "ונהי בעינינו כחגבים וכן היינו בעיניהם "And since they were the Niphilim that were in the generations of Noah were known throughout the world they mentioned to them that they were, the sons of Anak from them"

Also in Genesis Rabbah 26:7 Nephilim are referred to as seven names and Anakim is indeed one of them.

הַנְּפִלִים הָיוּ בָאָרֶץ בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם (בראשית ו, ד), שִׁבְעָה שֵׁמוֹת נִקְרְאוּ לָהֶם, אֵימִים, רְפָאִים, גִּבּוֹרִים, זַמְזֻמִּים, עֲנָקִים, עַוִּים, נְפִלִים

However there is a footnote by Yefeh To'ar in the Artscroll Midrash Rabbah that clarifies they were not proginators of the giants in Deuteronomy, for the giants referred to in Genesis 6:4 were destroyed in the Flood. The seven names are meant to reference families of giants before and after the Flood.

  • Please expand on the last paragraph. Most readers, including me, probably don't understand the difference in terms of their both being giants. I think you're alluding to that.
    – DanF
    Jun 10, 2018 at 16:11
  • tried to clarify the idea of Anak (or sons of Anak) vs Nephilim in update.
    – code613
    Jun 10, 2018 at 19:05

The fact that the meraglim lied is stated in the passuk (Bamidbar 13:32) וַיּוֹצִ֜יאוּ דִּבַּ֤ת הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר תָּר֣וּ אֹתָ֔הּ אֶל־בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל

Thus they spread calumnies among the Israelites about the land they had scouted. (calumnies= false and malicious statements designed to injure the reputation of someone or something).

and the Gemara Arachin 15a says: ממרגלים ומה המוציא שם רע על עצים ואבנים כך המוציא שם רע על חבירו על אחת כמה וכמה- The maraglim spoke Motzi-shem-ra on trees and stones... As we know Motzi-shem-ra means slander (which by definition is a lie].

That same pasuk goes on to list what were the calumnies that they spread:

לֵאמֹ֑ר הָאָ֡רֶץ אֲשֶׁר֩ עָבַ֨רְנוּ בָ֜הּ לָת֣וּר אֹתָ֗הּ אֶ֣רֶץ אֹכֶ֤לֶת יוֹשְׁבֶ֙יהָ֙ הִ֔וא וְכָל־הָעָ֛ם אֲשֶׁר־רָאִ֥ינוּ בְתוֹכָ֖הּ אַנְשֵׁ֥י מִדּֽוֹת׃

saying, “The country that we traversed and scouted is one that devours its settlers. All the people that we saw in it are men of great size;

[see RAMBAN 14:37 which explains the lie of this].

The following passuk quotes the meraglim as saying וְשָׁ֣ם רָאִ֗ינוּ אֶת־הַנְּפִילִ֛ים בְּנֵ֥י עֲנָ֖ק מִן־הַנְּפִלִ֑ים - And as I explained in my first answer above this was also untrue. It seems that this is continuation of the lies told by the maeraglim.


Bamidbar 13:22 ---- במדבר יג כב

וַיַּעֲלוּ בַנֶּגֶב וַיָּבֹא עַד־חֶבְרוֹן וְשָׁם אֲחִימַן שֵׁשַׁי וְתַלְמַי יְלִידֵי הָעֲנָק

They went up into the Negeb and came to Hebron, where lived Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the Anakites (giants).


ויבא עד חברון. כָּלֵב לְבַדּוֹ הָלַךְ שָׁם - AND HE CAME UNTO HEBRON — Caleb alone went there.

The rest of the spies did not enter Chevron.

Later in pasuk 28 the spies say:

אֶפֶס כִּֽי־עַז הָעָם הַיֹּשֵׁב בָּאָרֶץ וְהֶֽעָרִים בְּצֻרוֹת גְּדֹלֹת מְאֹד וְגַם־יְלִדֵי הָֽעֲנָק רָאִינוּ שָֽׁם

However, the people who inhabit the country are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large; moreover, we saw the Anakites there.

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    Downvote not from me but are you saying this is a lie? Maybe the Anakites lived in Hevron but were walking to other places where the spies saw them?
    – mbloch
    Jun 8, 2018 at 3:10
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    In addition to agreeing with the above comment, the verse you cited only says that אֲחִימַן שֵׁשַׁי וְתַלְמַי lived in חֶבְרוֹן. That certainly doesn't exclude the possibility that others lived elsewhere. And, the word שָֽׁם׃ is not, in any way, a specific reference to Chevron.
    – DanF
    Jun 8, 2018 at 14:04
  • @mbloch I saw this in one of the meforshim on chumash. I could not find it now when I looked at the standard meforshim, but it is definately not my own idea. Jun 10, 2018 at 8:50
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    Your other answer is unquestionably much better. I need to read some of its references. You may want to delete this one.
    – DanF
    Jun 11, 2018 at 2:02
  • I liked your sharp eye! Good point.
    – Al Berko
    Jun 23, 2019 at 10:22

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