Inevitably, my rav is unafraid to admit what he doesn't know, but he will pose the question, anyway. I heard this from him during last week's Seudah Shlishit, after the herring:

There are two sins that B'nai Yisra'el did where G-d proposes to destroy all the people and make Moshe into a great nation - The Golden Calf and the Spy Mission. In both occasions, Moshe turns down the offer and appeals to G-d in similar fashion in both. His initial argument in both is "What will Egypt (or the other nations) think?"

However, in the case of the Golden Calf, he invokes the merit of Avraham, Yitzhak and Ya'akov as part of his appeal. We do not see the forefathers' merit used in the Spy incident?

Why did Moshe not make any mention of this in the spy incident?

  • I was studying a compendium of midrash on this parashat after dinner on Friday and it posited that Moshe only invoked 6 of the 13 Attributes of Mercy because he sought only to delay, rather than rescind, Israel's punishment for the Sin of the Spies. Failure to invoke the Avot is perhaps due to the same reason. – Josh K Jun 11 '18 at 19:24
  • @JoshK Rash"i, I believe, among others, explains the missing ideas. I'll have another look at what he says. It very well may be related. – DanF Jun 11 '18 at 20:16
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    To any reader: I vaguely recall Gemara or Ramba"m discussing when zechut avot works and when it doesn't. Would someone know what this discussion is and where I can find it? It may lead to an answer, here. – DanF Jun 11 '18 at 21:01
  • @JoshK If you locate that source online, please provide a link. Rash"i doesn't discuss this, but I recall seeing this, somewhere. Don't recall where. – DanF Jun 11 '18 at 21:02
  • I will try to track down the book this week and at least get a reference. – Josh K Jun 11 '18 at 21:19

Ramba"n on Bemidbar 14:17 (the link points to the continuation page, where the part I shall summarize is) notices that when Moishe uses the 13 middot formulary, he omits נוצר חסד לאלפים ("passes kindness to a thousand generations") as an allusion to the forefathers' merit.

The reason Moshe omits this is that the land was promised to the forefathers and B'nai Yisra'el was supposed to inherit the land from them. However, by rebelling against the land, essentially, they are also rebelling against the forefathers because they are refusing the very gift that the forefathers chose.

Similarly, in the Golden Calf incident, Moses says, "And this land you said to them, 'I will give to your seed and they will inherit it, forever." In the spy incident, how could Moses say this phrase, truthfully, when it was clear that B'nai Yisra'el implied "We cannot accept this gift"?

My analysis:

Zechut Avot is frequently a powerful defense against G-d's punishment. View how often this idea is invoked in Tanac"h, and it is a point frequently stated in Tachanun and Selichot. B'nai Yisra'el doubted G-d's abilities with other issues, while they were in the desert. However, by specifically doubting G-d's bringing them to the land, they lost the power of Zechut Avot. Even if teshuva would have worked, (See this question.) they couldn't have invoked zechut avot.

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