Rashi to Bamidbar 13:26, on the words וילכו ויבאו, explains that the spies left with the intention of slandering, just as when they came back.

מהו וילכו להקיש הליכתן לביאתן מה ביאתן בעצה רעה אף הליכתן בעצה רעה (סוטה לה, א):

Why does it say “and they went” [when they are returning]? To connect their going with their coming. Just as their coming was with an evil plan, so was their going with an evil plan.

And Moshe knew about this, as he prayed that Yehoshua be saved from their evil plan, as Rashi explains on verse 16.

התפלל עליו יה יושיעך מעצת מרגלים (במ"ר. סוטה שם):

[Moshe] davened for [Yehoshua]: “May Hashem save you from the plot of the spies.”

So why did Moshe send the spies if he knew they had poor intentions? Even if he felt like his hand was forced - what would it look like if the people was asking for a report on what Eretz Yisrael looked like (see Rashi to v. 2) and he refused? - then why didn’t he pick better candidates?

  • "[W]hy didn’t he pick better candidates"? Considering that whole generation (except Yehoshu'a and Kalev) didn't merit living long enough to enter Eretz Yisra'el, did he have better candidate to pick from?
    – Tamir Evan
    Jun 8, 2018 at 11:43
  • @TamirEvan According to the opinions cited in this answer, not everyone between 20 and 60 died. Even if you don’t learn like that, he could have sent kids to spy out the land, or at least 13-19 year olds. Besides all of that, maybe Bnei Yisrael only believed the spies, but had they spied the land themselves they would have seen the bounty for what it was.
    – DonielF
    Jun 8, 2018 at 22:37
  • Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/29179
    – msh210
    Jun 10, 2018 at 0:16
  • That seems like a lot of maybes to ask your question from, and it still doesn't mean that there actually were any better candidates to pick from. Why not assume that Moshe did the best he could with what he had? Also, he may have had to weigh other considerations, as well: Choosing spies the people would accept the veracity of their report. Maybe that's why he chose people who were "... men of distinction ... the heads of the children of Israel"(13:3, and see Rashi there: "At that time, they were virtuous").
    – Tamir Evan
    Jun 10, 2018 at 16:34
  • @TamirEvan As an aside, I find the Rashi you quote problematic because he seems to contradict with the two comments that I quote in my question. Taking it at face value anyway, if you can source your assertion that he “did the best he could with what he had” or that the fact these were “men of distinction ... the heads of the children of Israel” meant they were the most trustworthy he could find and that the people would believe, I’d accept either one as an answer.
    – DonielF
    Jun 10, 2018 at 21:30

2 Answers 2


I'm not sure Moshe had a choice. Once Hashem allowed him to send the spies (Rashi Bamidbar 13:2), I assume he would have to consult the Sanhedrin since he absolved himself from making decisions alone (see Bamidbar 11:14-16). The Sanhedrin outvoted him (as they can't listen just because he's greater, see Avot 4:8) and then Moshe had to send the spies.

Interesting that the laws of Sanhedrin are learned from the spies (Sanhedrin 1:6).


I know I'm a bit unorthodox here, but I'll try, according to Drush:


  • When talking about the behavior of the fathers of our nation an important distinction must be made - knowing the TRUTH לכתחילה or בדיעבד.

  • Many Torah stories show that there's no way לכתחילה of knowing whether a certain behavior was a Mitzvah or a sin, only בדיעבד, when Torah explicitly judges it. For example, Jacob deceiving his father, Yehuda and Tamar, Moses breaking the Luchos or Aharon making the Golden Calf - all of them looked as definite transgressions and turned out to be Mitzvot; or the opposite - Moses hitting the rock - turned out to be a sin.

  • Same is true for the various arguments between the leaders of our nation - in the moment of the argument we can not possibly know its outcome (think Yossef vs Brothers or R' Eliezer vs Rabbis). It is only בדיעבד, when HKB"H picks a side and reveals us who "the Oscar goes to...". To wit, would you consider it outrageous, if HKB"H would pick R' Eliezer's side and kill all the Rabbis for rebelling him and the heaven's decree?

The DISPUTE between the Spies and Moses:

Conquering the Holy Land (from the 7 nations) was a necessary step in bringing the final Geulah - there were no doubts about it. However, Moses and the spies represented different methods for achieving that:

  • Moses and Yehoshua held that despite the high spiritual level of Dor Hamidbar, the people could possibly change their designation from Torah scholars (Toratam Omanutam) to Torah warriors (Dor Ha'aretz) and be physically engaged in the conquest (so called "קידוש החומר").

  • The tribe leaders held that confronting the evil nations could seriously harm the highest, angel-like spiritual level they achieved, but instead they would be able to eliminate the enemies in the Holy Land by being engaged in Torah learning in the Desert. (This idea is very popular in Torah, Yaakov, Moses and other used it many times to fight the evil, similar to נשלמה פרים שפתינו)

Unfortunately (as it always happens with our Rabbis) they were all prejudiced, and they all decided the outcome before they even started the journey, hence the Haykesh of the Gemmorah. Therefore Moses warned Yehoshua not to change his mind, knowing that the spies will not change theirs.

As we can see, when they returned, they all interpreted the facts they observed in the Land to prove their points - Yehosua claimed the severity of the situation with the evil nations proves our strengths and our trust in Hashem, while the leaders claimed the danger of falling is inevitable, and staying in the Desert is the only solution.

Now to your questions:

  • Moses would definitely not fail the whole nation if he knew in advance they gonna kill them all, don't you think? THat was a sure Rodef, so he could arrest them and even get them killed as the King. Therefore, Moses knew that they think differently, he did not know what HKB"A will choose.

  • The leaders were the peoples representatives, they were the Nesiyim of the tribes' Sanhedrins, they were all a-priori Kosher (as Torah testifies, Rashi)

I really hope it sheds some light on the Parshah. NB. Very same logic applies to other disputes, like Korakh etc.

  • 1
    First: Why is there no way of judging whether something is good לכתחילה or not? I don’t think there is a single case on a Torah level which has a different Halacha בדיעבד. Second: Was it a necessary step? According to the spies they shouldn’t go to Eretz Yisrael. We can say that it was, but they didn’t. Third: I’m pretty sure that’s not what ונשלמה פרים שפתינו means. Can you back up that assertion? Fourth: I don’t understand you paragraph beginning “Moses would...” Could you please explain what you mean? Finally: They were important people, sure, but where do you get that they were nesi’im?
    – DonielF
    Jun 11, 2018 at 22:52
  • 1. Good לכתחילה: (Sorry I deleted that section, that seemed too lengthy of an explanation). In short, good means fitting a goal. As we don't know what G-d's objective goal is (unlike our goals), we can not judge others objectively.
    – Al Berko
    Jun 12, 2018 at 14:22
  • 1. Good לכתחילה: (Sorry I deleted that section, that seemed too lengthy of an explanation). In short, let's agree that "good" means fitting a pre-defined goal. You will also agree that we might have different perception of the goal(s) than Hashem (e.g. breaking the Tablets is bad for us, but it was good for Hashem, so is sleeping with daughter in law). THerefore, there's no way for us to judge others' actions objectively. I also didn't say it was Halachah, it was always a one-time action (עת לעשות לה').
    – Al Berko
    Jun 12, 2018 at 14:34
  • Please delete the first comment
    – Al Berko
    Jun 12, 2018 at 14:34
  • 2. The mission: the mission itself was not necessary, as Hashem says לך. But as I said, the argument was not about entering E.I as the final goal - that was agreed upon, but about the way of getting rid of the 7 nations (remember Rambam's 3 steps - King, Amolek, Temple). Either way they wished to estimate their powers, either physical or spiritual.
    – Al Berko
    Jun 12, 2018 at 14:40

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