Do It If You Want ToBy Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
Until this point, life in the wilderness had its ups and downs. The revelation at Sinai? Up. The golden calf? Down. The manna? Up. The quail? Down. And so on and so forth. In this parsha, things take a horrible turn for the worse.
G-d told Moshe to send twelve prominent representatives, one per Tribe, to scout out the land of Israel. (If this were an episode of Star Trek, the 12 spies would be the “away team.” It’s the same basic idea: a mission of reconnaissance.) The spies’ names are given; among them is the familiar Hoshea the son of Nun, better known to us as Yehoshua (Joshua).
Moshe charged the spies with checking out the land and its inhabitants so that the Jews might have an idea of what to expect. They were to gather both military intelligence and agricultural information, bringing back samples of the indigenous produce.
It should be noted that G-d’s directive to send spies was in response to the people’s request to do so. The parsha begins, “Shlach l’cha anashim” – “send representatives for yourselves.” G-d didn’t “set the Jews up” with this command, he was acquiescing to their request. They ended up hoisting themselves with their own petard. (See Talmud Sotah 34b and Rashi here on 13:2. That the request came from the people is stated explicitly in parshas Devarim, Deut. 1:22, where the people say to Moshe, “Let us send men ahead…”)