No Such Thing As Bad Questions? by Benjy Lankin


In Parashat Shelach, Moshe sends twelve Meraglim into the land of Israel. When they return, the Meraglim relay to Bnei Yisrael their seemingly honest report of the land. Bnei Yisrael hear this apparently frightening account of the land of Kena’an, and are scared and confused. They complain that they were brought out of Egypt just to die trying to conquer Eretz Yisrael. They even wish to appoint a leader over themselves and return to Egypt (BeMidbar 14:4)! This blatant lack of faith in Hashem’s power and rejection of the beauty of Eretz Yisrael provokes Hashem to threaten to destroy the whole Jewish people and start over with Moshe (14:11-12).

How did things escalate so quickly to the point where Hashem wanted to destroy the Bnei Yisrael? Did the fact that Moshe sent spies to scout out the land actually display of lack of faith in Hashem’s promise to take His nation into the land?

This week’s Haftarah deals with a seemingly parallel case in Sefer Yehoshua, in which Yehoshua sends spies into Yericho to scout it out. However, when Yehoshua sends out spies, the outcome is dramatically different. In Yehoshua’s case, the spies were sent out on a mission, and returned with an honest report, just like in Parashat Shelach. But there, the Jewish nation was not threatened with annihilation! What was so drastically different between Moshe’s mission and Yehoshua’s?

I would like to suggest an alternate way to view this question. When one wishes to buy a house, there are a many aspects of the house one must consider; for example, if it is a nice house, if it is in a good community, if the price is reasonable etc. These are all appropriate questions to ask before purchasing a place to call home. What if the perspective buyer already owned the home? Would these be the same questions asked? Probably not, for this is already his home and it would be unnecessary to ask these questions. Similarly, Moshe sends the spies with specific questions to find the answers.  The Pasuk states, “URe’item Et HaAretz; Mah Hi,” “And you should see the land; what it is” (13:18).  Moshe seems to be asking questions as though he were a potential buyer. The choice of questions Moshe asks leads the spies to answer as if they were appraising a property. However, when Yehoshua sends out spies, he recognizes that the ownership of the land has already been resolved by Hashem and is not debatable. Yehoshua merely wants to assess and observe the land of Yericho, as he commands the spies, “Lechu Re’u Et HaAretz VeEt Yericho,” “Go see the land and Yericho” (Yehoshua 2:1). To him, the question is not the value of the promised land. It is as if it has already been bought. To him, the question is, what is the best way to get into the land?

Put another way, Moshe’s questions reflect a lack of Emunah in Hashem’s promise, whereas Yehoshua’s questions are an expression of Hishtadlut, partnership between man and Hashem.

We must remember that Eretz Yisrael was promised to our people from the time of Avraham. Hashem took us out of Egypt to eventually bring us to the land of Kena’an to conquer it as had been promised. Moshe’s questions for the spies left them with the feeling that conquering the land was up for discussion. Yehoshua knew that Hashem gave us the land, and that the only question to ask was how to go about conquering it.

Often we ask the wrong questions regarding our relationship to Israel. We ask: Should we move out of the Yehudah and Shomron because the Arab threat is too strong? Or: Is giving up land the only way to make peace? The questions I suggest we should be asking are: How do we keep OUR land? And how can we, in the Diaspora, help our brethren in Israel? Since Israel is our homeland as promised to Avraham Avinu, let’s start asking questions like Yehoshua, and work with Hashem to secure Eretz Yisrael.

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