In Parashat Shelach, we read about the mission of Meraglim who are sent to explore Kena’an prior to the nation's arrival. Moshe picks twelve prestigious members of Bnei Yisrael, one from each Sheivet, and sends them off on a reconnaissance mission to spy on the peoples of Eretz Kena’an. They return bearing giant fruit and a report about the land. They tell Bnei Yisrael how the residents of the land are very strong and live in fortified cities, and they also horrify Bnei Yisrael to such an extent that they begin to complain to Moshe and Aharon that they want to flee back to Mitzrayim. The riots escalate and the lives of Moshe and Aaron are threatened. The text then continues and states, "VaYomer Hashem El Moshe Ad Anah Yena'atzuni HaAm HaZeh VeAd Anah Lo Ya'aminu Vi BeChol HaOtot Asher Asiti BeKirbo Akenu VaDever VeOrishenu VeE'eseh Otecha LeGoy Gadol VeAtzum MiMenu," "And Hashem said to Moshe, ‘for how long will this nation hate Me and for how long will they not believe in Me after the signs that I showed them? I will smite them with pestilence and wipe them out and I will make you into a larger and greater nation than they" (BeMidbar 14:11-12). The question is, though, what exactly drives Hashem to this point of expressing such frustration?
In order to figure out why Hashem expresses such anger, we must properly understand the nature of the sin of the Meraglim. A simple explanation is that the sin is that of Leshon Hara. After all, the Pasuk reads, “VaYotzi’u Dibat HaAretz,” “and they spread an evil report about the land” (BeMidbar 13:32). Rashi (BeMidbar 13:2 s.v. Shelach LeCha Anashim) supports this idea by providing an explanation regarding the juxtaposition of this story and that of Miryam's Leshon Hara. Had the Meraglim not been so wicked, Rashi explains, they would have learned from what happened to Miryam and wouldn’t have told Bnei Yisrael their negative report. Rashi explains that they are such wicked people that they see what happens and don’t learn from it. This idea about their sin makes sense, as the power of speech, both in positive and negative ways, is known to be one of the most powerful influences on crowds. Once Bnei Yisrael hear the powerful speech of the Meraglim, they grew fearful and became a mob.
However, there may be a different reason for Hashem expressing such rage. Perhaps the sin of the Jews comes from a lack of trust in Hashem. When the spies enter the land, they see giants occupying fortified cities and people dying. In their minds, if the Jewish nation would attempt to conquer this land, they would be slaughtered. Clearly, the Meraglim are lacking in faith and Bitachon; however, they aren’t guilty of speaking Leshon Hara because there is no prohibition against speaking Leshon Hara about land. We are forbidden from derogatory speech about people, not places. Additionally, once the Meragalim make their mistake and conclude that Hashem isn’t powerful enough to bring the nation into the land, what they then delineate isn’t Leshon Hara. They believe that they are saving the Jewish people from utter destruction, and therefore it isn’t forbidden speech; it is a Mitzvah. If the Jews had proper faith in Hashem, they would have ignored the negative aspects of what the Meraglim are saying, and believed that Hashem would help them overcome the obstacles. The failure of Bnei Yisrael to do this may be why Hashem eventually reacts so harshly.
We should learn from this the awesome power that speech can have, and learn to not only hear but to analyze and decide for ourselves how to react to what is given to us. By doing this we will never again make the mistakes that Bnei Yisrael make in the Midbar after hearing the speech of the Meraglim.