Scouts vs. Advisors

Dedicated to the Memory of Louis Levine z"l, Baruch Aryeh ben Avraham Halevi,

on his Eighth Yahrzeit, 19th of Sivan


When Moshe sends the spies to scout out the Land of Israel, he gives them a list of things to look for (Bamidbar 13: 18-20):


And see the land what it is; and the people that live there, whether they be strong or weak, few or many.

What the land is that they dwell in, whether it be good or bad;

And what cities they dwell in, whether in tents or strongholds;

And what the land is, whether it be fat or lean, whether it be wooded or not.


When the spies return they answer the questions that they were asked forty days earlier by stating the facts of exactly what they saw (Bamidbar 13:27-28):


We came to the Land that you sent us to and it does flow with milk and honey and this is the fruit of it (they carried some samples of the fruits back with them). Nevertheless, the people are fierce that dwell in the land and the cities are very strongly fortified; also, we saw the children of Anak (giants) there. Amalekites live in the south and the Chiti, Yevusi and Emori dwell in the mountain and the Cnaani dwell by the sea and next to the Yarden.


In Devarim 1:29-32 we see that after the spies gave their account of what they saw in the Land, Moshe said to B’nai Yisrael: “Do not crumble and do not fear them. Hashem your God who goes before you, He will wage war for you as in everything that He did with you in Egypt before your eyes and in the wilderness as you have seen where God carried you as a man carries his son all along the road you went until you arrived at this place. Yet in this matter, you do not trust God.”


According to Chizkuni, as Calev saw that the nation was starting to get worried by the facts that the spies presented, he silenced the nation.


Calev tried to use words of encouragement by saying “we can surely go up to the Land.”


However the other spies that had been with him said “we are not able to go up because they are much stronger than us (or they are stronger than God)”.


According to Nehama Leibowitz at this point the spies don’t just state facts, they actually give their own opinions as well and take on the role of advisor (13:32-33): “The Land through which we have passed to scout it is a land which consumes its inhabitants; and every one of the people we saw in it are men of great stature. There we saw the giants, the sons of the giant, of the Nephilim and we were like grasshoppers in our eyes and so we appeared in their eyes.”


Rabbi Yitzchak Arama (The Akedat Yitzchak) brings a parable:


A man asks an agent to go to a warehouse and look at a tallit that the merchant has in stock. He is instructed to examine it carefully for the quality of the wool and linen, for size, appearance and price. If the agent comes back and says that it is too expensive then he has not fulfilled his mission. The man only asked for the facts, he didn’t ask for advice.


What right did the spies have to say that the people in the Land were stronger than God? How could they possibly even know that? Why were they so sure that they appeared as grasshoppers in the eyes of the inhabitants?


We see from here that there is no problem with finding and presenting facts. The problem is embellishing the facts and giving unsolicited advice.


In 1969, Rabbi Aaron Rakeffet, a brilliant Rabbi from the NY area and his family decided to make Aliya. When Rabbi Rakeffet went to meet with an Aliyah Shaliach, they tried to discourage him, they told him that there are no jobs and that he would probably end up having to sweep the streets. Despite their advice, he made Aliayh anyway and ended up with the prestigious job of working as a staff writer for Encyclopedia Judaica. He also taught is Yeshivot and Midrashot for Overseas students. It would have been a great loss to Israeli society if Rabbi Rakeffet had taken the advice of the Aliyah Shaliach.


Thankfully, today, when a person decides to make Aliyah and move to Israel, they will find a warm and inviting message on the Nefesh B’Nefesh website:


Mazal Tov on your decision to make Aliyah! We wish you much success as you begin this new adventure, and we are thrilled that Nefesh B'Nefesh is able to help you fulfill your Aliyah dreams and assist you in building your future in Israel. After ten years of working with more than 30,000 Olim, Nefesh B'Nefesh has extensive experience, and we are happy to do our part in helping you realize your individual goals and aspirations.