Moses and the Spies: What Did the Spies Do Wrong? | Aleph Beta

What Did The Spies Do Wrong?

What Did The Spies Do Wrong?


Beth Lesch


We know God wasn't pleased with the spies' report to Moses. Due to their actions, an entire generation would die in the desert, never entering the Promised Land. But what exactly did the spies do wrong?

The spies told Moses that the land of Israel 'flows with milk and honey' and was inhabited by strong peoples – weren't they just telling the truth? Why was God blaming the spies for reporting their experience?

Join Beth Lesch and Ami Silver as they explore Moses' retelling and of the spies and discover their real failure and their children's opportunity to redeem their sin.

Watch More:

The Promised Land: Good Or Bad?

Eicha And Ayekah: Was There A Tisha B’Av In Eden?


Beth: Hey there listeners, welcome to Parsha Lab. I'm Beth Lesch, I'm a writer here at Aleph Beta.

Ami: I'm Ami Silver, another writer at Aleph Beta.

Beth: Thanks so much for joining me, Ami. I'm excited to do this with you today.

Ami: Yes, it's great to be with you, Beth.

Beth: So I want to also give a shout out and a thank you to our listeners, those who have subscribed, keep on tuning in, you guys are awesome. If you haven't already, make sure you sign on and you give our app five stars. That way all of your other parsha-loving friends can also find us. If you have not yet subscribed, now is the time to do so.

So Ami, let's dive in. We're talking about Parshat Devarim. I've got some stuff I want to share with you, and I've got some questions. So I'm looking forward to some of the work that we can do together in making sense of all of this. Let's just start by situating our listeners a little bit. What is going on here at the beginning of the book of Deuteronomy, where are we?

Ami: Okay, so let's start geographically. From what I recall we're basically on the banks of the Jordan River, or in their general vicinity. The nation has gone through the 40 years of wandering in the desert and is preparing to enter the Land of Israel. The Book of Devarim, Deuteronomy, it's basically Moses' final farewell speech where he rehashes and repeats a lot of the stories and also gives the people a lot of guidance and kind of instruction and encouragement with regard to what they're going to need to know and remember, moving forward into the land.

Beth: Exactly, Ami, so the rehashing is what I want to focus on with you today. In particular there's one story that Moses really zooms in on in the first chapter of Deuteronomy that he devotes the majority of his time too. You know which story I'm thinking about?

Ami: I have an inkling. Does it have to do with the spies, Beth?

Moses Sends Out 12 Spies

Beth: Exactly, it rhymes with byes and ties. All right the story of the spies, that's the one that I'm talking about. So I found something fascinating that's going on in Moses' retelling of the story of the spies, but before we can even get there, before we can appreciate it, we have to first appreciate the telling. So I want us to flip back to Numbers, Chapter 13, where the story first takes place, where it's first narrated. I'm going to ask you some questions about the story as it's told over there and then in the end we're going to come back to our placeholder in Deuteronomy and see if that opens any doors for us.

Ami: Okay, great. I'm excited, let's do it.

Beth: All right. So here we are, we're going back to Numbers. Take a look at the command that Moses gives to the spies. Let's read through that command and see what their mission was.

Ami: Okay so we're in Bamidbar, Numbers, Chapter 13, Verse 17. "Vayishlach otam Moshe latur et eretz Cana'an", Moses sends them out to explore, to scout the land Canaan, "Vayomer aleihem alu zeh banegev v'alitem et hahar", he says to them go up in the Negev and ascend the mountain. "U're'item et ha'aretz ma hi", you'll see the land, what is it? "V'et ha'am hayoshev aleha hechazak hu harafeh", and the nation that's dwelling in that land, is it a strong nation, a weak nation? "Hame'at hu im rav", are they small, are they many?

"U'ma ha'aretz asher hu yoshev bah", and what's the land like that that nation is dwelling in? "Hatovah hi im ra'ah", is it a good land or a bad land? "U'ma he'arim asher hu yoshev bahena", how about the cities that the nation is dwelling in? "Hab'machanim im b'mivtzarim", are they encampments or are they fortified cities? "Uma ha'aretz hashemena hee im razah", what's the land like, is it fat or is it skinny? "Hayesh bah eitz im ayin", kind of a really strange phrasing but to say it in normal English we'd say is there a tree or is there not? "V'hitchazaktem u'lekachtem mipri ha'aretz", you should strengthen yourself and take from the fruit of the land. "V'hayamim y'mei bikurei anavim", then the Torah tells us that it was the season at that time of the first grapes.

Beth: Okay, awesome. So let's just recapitulate real quickly, turn that mission into a bullet point list.

  • Moses tells them to do a few things, he says go up to the Negev and go to the Har, so go to the South, go to the mountains. See the land and in particular, look out for the people. He gives them this dichotomy, right, is the people strong or weak, are they many or few?
  • Then he goes back to the land, lookout for the land. Again, another dichotomy, is the land good or bad?
  • Now the cities, another dichotomy, are the cities unfortified vulnerable tent-like encampments or are they fortified?
  • Then another dichotomy, what about the land again, is it fat or is it, you know, is it a poor land? Is it a lean land, is there a tree in it?
  • And then sends them on a mission, go ahead and also bring back some of the fruit.

So now keep that whole bullet point list in mind and skip down to when the spies come back and they bring their report, and I want us to see if the spies in fact fulfill all of these bullet points. If they execute the whole mission or if there's something missing.

Ami: If they're faithful messengers and they come back with the information Moses asked them or not?

Did the Spies Fulfill Moses' Commands?

Beth: Exactly. He asks them for information and he also asks them for the fruit, right, so do they bring back the fruit and do they bring back the requested information?

Ami: "Vayesapru lo", they told him, "vayomru", and they said, "banu el ha'aretz asher shelachtanu", we arrived to the land that you sent us to, "v'gam zavat chalav u'devash hee v'zeh piryah", and that land, it is also flowing with milk and honey and this is its fruit. So we have a report about the land here, it seems like a rich land, milk and honey are flowing out of it, and they've brought the fruits it seems like, right, so that's two of the bullet points that they've covered.

"Efes ki az ha'am hayoshev ba'aretz", this word "efes" is pretty strange. How would you translate that word, Beth?

Beth: So "efes" to me is zero out what I just said, so it's a but, it's a how be it.

Ami: It's refuting everything they said until now, it seems like. So "Efes ki az ha'am hayoshev ba'aretz", because the people, the nation that dwells in that land, they are "az", they are powerful. "V'he'arim betzurot gedolot me'od", their cities are these huge fortresses, "v'gam yeladei ha'anak ra'inu sham", we also saw the children of the giants there. "Amalek yoshev b'eretz hanegev", the nation Amalek is dwelling in the land of the negev, the south, "v'hachiti v'hayevusi v'ha'emori", all these other nation "yoshev bahar", they live there in the mountains, "v'hacana'ani yoshev al hayam", the Canaanites, they live on the shore, "v'al yad hayarden", and by the Jordan as well.

Beth: That's where their report ends. So did they cover all the bullet points, Ami?

Ami: Okay, so let's think about it. They talked about the people, and while they're not giving population numbers, they mention a whole lot of different nations that lived there, so maybe that's talking about the multitude of nations living there. Moses asked are they strong or are they weak and they say that they're "az", it sounds like they're powerful. Moses asks do they live in encampments or "mivtzarim", which we said is some kind of fortified cities, and they say they have "betzurot gedolot", from that same root of mivtzar, so it sounds like they reported on the fortresses. Am I missing anything?

Beth: So we brought back the fruit. In terms of information, we said we covered the people, we covered the cities and we covered the land. Now let's go back to what Moses said about the land. Moses really asked them to report back two things about the land, there were two dichotomies, right? Did they address both dichotomies?

Moses' Question to the Spies: Good or Bad?

Ami: So as I'm looking back, there's two things Moses asked about the land, is it good or is it bad? Is it fat or is it lean?

Beth: Mm-hm, so which one of those did they answer, or did they answer both?

Ami: So it sounds from the surface of it like they answered the second one, is it a productive land or not, and the answer is yes, it is so productive, it's just flowing with milk and honey, but we don't hear is it good or is it bad.

Beth: What do you make of that? Moses gave them a direct mission, and they seemed to take that mission pretty literally because when they come, and they bring back their report, so much of their report is literally word for word addressing what Moses said to them. Right, they say yes, the people is "az" (powerful), and the cities are "betzurot" (strong), and all of these things, but they're completely silent on the question of good or bad.

Ami: It's really interesting Beth. Something that strikes me is, it sounds like good and bad on this list of things Moses is asking them, it's the only one that is sort of subject to opinion. The others seem to be somewhat quantifiable; are they a lot or are they a little, is there produce there, is there not, what do the cities look like?

Beth: Interesting.

Ami: Is the nation strong or are they weak? But good and bad, how are they supposed to judge that? Especially you have a group of 12 people, are they all supposed to decide, whoever says it's good raise your hand, whoever says bad raise your hand, you know, thumbs up, thumbs down. What are they judging that based on?

Beth: I hear, so I want to complicate that a little bit. So turn with me now to the very next chapter. This is the continuation of the story of the spies. This is the people's reaction to the spies' report. Of course, the spies are going to go on to say a lot more than what we just read. They're going to say the people there are much, much stronger than us, and we were like grasshoppers in their eyes and we can't do this and we're doomed. In response the people cry, and the people say "lu matnu b'eretz mitzrayim", would that we had died in the land of Egypt. Now take a look for me at Verse 3.

Ami: Okay, so they go on, "V'lamah Hashem meivi otanu el ha'aretz hazot", why is God even bringing us to this land, "linpol bacherev", to die by the sword, "nafshenu v'tapeinu yihiyu lavaz", our wives and children, they'll become captives there, "halo tov lanu shuv Mitzrayma", wouldn't it be good for us to return to Egypt? There we have "tov", there we have good coming in.

Beth: Exactly. But what do you make of these two things in contrast?

Ami: So first of all just as far as the function of good goes, in relation to all those other questions, or all those other ways of analyzing something, good here, it seems like the conclusion, this is what we see. They're strong, they're going to kill us, we don't stand a chance, now I can decide what would be good here. What would be good here is to go back to Egypt. I would say, you know, if we go back to the list of questions, you know, it didn't happen in this order, but good and bad is only something they could really judge after they acquired all of the rest of that information about the land and really kind of analyzed it.

Beth: So let me say it back to you to see if we're on the same page. If we had just read Chapter 13 and we just saw what the spies said about the land, we'd say their report about the land was positive. They said it was a land that flows with milk and honey. Their report about the inhabitants was pretty scary, that was foreboding, but the land itself, it seems like they came back with a positive report. Sure, they didn't say that it was good, but they implied that it was good. But I hear you saying when you turn to Chapter 14 and you see this word good and you see that they described returning to Egypt as good, all of a sudden, now you understand that in Chapter 13, the omission of good really meant not good. Moses gave them a command, tell me if the land is good or bad, and their failure to say whether it was good or bad really implies retrospectively that they didn't think it was good at all.

Ami: Okay, so Beth, if I'm understanding you correctly, it sounds like what you're saying here is that maybe their report about the land, that it's basically a fat land, it's a productive land, but not calling it good somehow is there to imply that maybe they didn't actually think it was a good land, whatever that might mean here.

Beth: That's what I'm getting at, Ami. I want to just give you another piece of evidence to underline just how conspicuous it is that they don't say anything about good, as is if it's not enough that the primary question Moses asks them about the land is tell me is it good or bad. If you'll just turn with me for a second to Exodus, Chapter 3.

Ami: Okay. Are we going to the burning bush by any chance Beth?

Moses, the 12 Spies... and the Burning Bush?

Beth: We're in burning bush, we're standing there, our shoes are off and we're hearing God explain to Moses, promising to Moses for the very first time what it is that He's going to do when he brings the people out of slavery. He's going to redeem the people from Egypt and we're looking at Verse 8.

Ami: Mm-hm.

Beth: Tell us what God promises us and tell me what jumps out at you here.

Ami: Okay, so God says "V'eireid l'hatzilan miyad Mitzrayim", I'm going to descend into Egypt to save, rescue the nation from the hands of Egypt, "U'lehaloto min ha'aretz hahi", and to lift the people out of that land, "el eretz tovah urechavah", to a land that is good and expensive, "el eretz zavat chalav udevash", to a land that's flowing with milk and honey. So it seems like this verse is somehow preempting what the spies are ultimately going to say when they come back from the land.

Beth: Right. The spies are reaching back to this verse. The spies were plagiarizing this verse.

Ami: Okay, should I read to the end of the verse here?

Beth: Yes, keep going.

Ami: "El mekom Ha'Cana'ani v'achiti v'ha'emori v'haperizi v'hachivi v'hayevusi", to the place, here again we have again the list of nations that are living there. It kind of sounds oddly like the seed for the spies' report was planted back here at the burning bush.

Beth: It really does, doesn't it? Right, so this is the first time that we hear about the Land of Israel through God's eyes, and the spies' report is the first time that we hear about the Land of Israel through the people's eyes. So what's the same and what's different?

Ami: Right, okay, I like the question. What's the same is it's a land that's flowing with milk and honey. What's the same is that a bunch of these nations are mentioned in both verses. What's different is that God calls it an "eretz tovah urechavah", God calls it a land that's good.

Beth: Exactly. There's one thing missing, the very first thing that God promises about this land, the very first qualifier in the entire book that God gives us to describe the land as it's a good land, that's fundamentally its essence. That's what Moses says, God promised us a good land, go and see if it's good or bad, and that's the one thing that the spies conspicuously leave out. It seems like such a positive report, it's a land flowing with milk and honey, but there's this conspicuous omission. If the spies knew God's words enough to quote them, the people knew God's words well enough to quote them. Maybe they heard that echo too, or the lack of that echo.

Ami: It also kind of sounds to me like Moses and God, they both know that this land is good or maybe even potentially good. This is a word that Moses is associating with the Land of Israel, that God for sure associates with the Land of Israel. But the spies, somehow they're not on the same page. They're somehow are not relating that word at all to the Land of Israel.

Beth: Now let's look at the... we know the people's reaction, the people hear the spies' report and they cried. They say "tov lanu shuv mitzraymah" (it would be better for us to return to Egypt), right? What's Moses response? When do we first hear a response from Moses to the spies' report?

Understanding the Reaction of Moses

Ami: You mean, other than falling on his face?

Beth: I'm talking about falling on his face. When does he fall on his face?

Ami: Okay, so we've got from that verse we read about the nation's words that they said in response. Then the people turned to one another and say let's appoint a leader, it seems, and return to Egypt and then at that point, Moses and Aaron fall on their face.

Beth: In other words, maybe Moses, who knows God's words, who knows that this is a good land, who was charging the spies to go out and see it but hoping that they would be able to recognize, but I guess this is a good land indeed just as God promised it.

Maybe when they come back and they give their report and they say it's a land flowing with milk and honey but he doesn't hear that word good, maybe he gives them the benefit of the doubt, but when they then use that word good in Verse 3, but they use it to describe not the Land of Israel, but Egypt, that seems to be the breaking point for Moses. That's when he falls on his face and says this people, how could you possibly – God told you he's going to bring you to a good land, and not only can you not bring yourself to see the goodness in that land with your own eyes, but you attribute goodness to that evil place that God just redeemed you from. That's a slap on the face and for him, that makes him fall on his face.

Ami: It seems all the more poignant in that at the burning bush God said I'm going to take you out of that land to a land that's called good...

Beth: Exactly.

Ami: ...and the people are saying no I want to go, we want to go back to that land and for us that's where it's good.

Beth: I think that's exactly right, it is the exact inverse of the God perspective. Now we saw how Moses responds and of course Aaron falls on his face with him. Who are the other leaders in this story, the emerging leaders and how do they respond?

The Good Spies vs the Bad Spies

Ami: Okay. So we have Joshua and Caleb and I'm just looking here and glancing down to Verse 7 that they turn to the people and they say "ha'aretz asher avarnu ba latur otah", that land that we passed through, that we went to scout out, "tovah ha'aretz me'od me'od", not only is it good, it's very, very good.

Beth: Okay, so what are they doing here? Let me add some fire to the question. The spies have said a lot of troubling things up until this point, namely they have extolled the strength and might of the inhabitants of the land and they have first implied and then said explicitly that the people can't take them, that the people of Israel won't be able to conquer the inhabitants of the land, they won't be able to conquer the land.

Ami: They won't stand a chance.

Beth: They won't stand a chance. Now if I hadn't read this story before, I would've expected Caleb and Joshua to stand up and say something else. I would've expected them to stand up and say, "Of course we can take the inhabitants of the land, they're strong but we and our God are stronger." They do say that, they say that earlier at the end of Chapter 13, but here they say something different. What is it that they say and why do they say it?

Ami: So it sounds like they are pronouncing that missing goodness, that good that the spies, as you pointed out, just left out of their report. The good that was misplaced by the people in response to that report, they're bringing it back and not only are they bringing it back, they're bringing it very, very, they're doubly amplifying it.

Beth: What does it remind you of to say that something is very, very good?

Ami: So the double very doesn't remind me of anything in particular but using the words very good bring me back to Genesis, to the six days of creation. Is that where you're going, Beth? Is that what you're thinking of?

Beth: That's what I'm thinking about. Ami, what do we do with that? What do we do with the fact that Caleb and Joshua seemingly hear the conspicuous omission of the spies, the spies faltered in some serious way by not describing the land as good, and Caleb and Joshua stand up and they say, not only is it good, it's very good, in a way that harkens back to Gods creation, and I want you to think about that, Children of Israel. What could be going on there?

Ami: Okay, so I'm just running some of those associations through my mind, and I'll tell you what comes up for me. In the story of creation, we have God calling a whole lot of things good, we have God finally calling all of creation very good, we have a tree that's good and not good, which is reminiscent of what Moses basically tells the spies, go see is it good or bad, that land, right, we have the tree of knowledge, good and bad. Then we have people who sort of take good into their own hands.

Beth: Literally.

Ami: Literally taking their hands, and not only that, it's the fruit, right? The spies had to go in and they had to take some fruit as well. So we have this kind of eerie mix of elements of good, bad, very good and fruit.

Beth: We've heard this before.

Ami: Right. So to come back and answer your question. You know, what you called the God perspective of the Land of Israel, it almost sounds like if the spies, the people are somehow walking back down the trail that Adam and Eve slipped up in. Perhaps Caleb and Joshua are sort of harkening back to the place of very good, that Godly perspective of the goodness of creation that existed before the point of breakdown, before eating from that tree and everything that came afterwards.

Beth: Awesome. So, Ami, here's what I'm wondering. Could it be that Caleb and Joshua, they are saying two things at once? On the one hand they're saying, guys, the spies got it wrong, this isn't just a land that flows with milk and honey, it's a good land. But they're also saying something else, they're saying there's something egregious about the spies getting it wrong, there's a reason the spies got it wrong, there's something fundamental that they forgot that they need to be reminded of.

What they need to be reminded of is the fact that there was a first being in the world who was given the task of evaluating, of assessing good and bad, and that being was God, the Master and Creator of the universe. God created everything and of course by the time we get to the sixth day, God has created the universe and man in it and looks at that and pronounces that very good. It's within God's power and no one else's to evaluate what's good and what's not good, mankind included.

Now mankind, the very creation that was once pronounced very good by God has the audacity to look at the land, the very land that God designated as good and to somehow not see its goodness. Right, I wonder if the spies are supposed to be seeing the land through God's perspective, and instead they're seeing it through their own perspective and that that is what Caleb and Joshua are responding to.

Ami: So Beth, just a few things that pop up for me when you say that. One is, in the following verses, Caleb and Joshua say "ach b'Hashem al timrodu", don't rebel against God. They're calling out, they're saying what's really going on here is not that you're saying no we can't go into the land, we should go somewhere else, it's a flat-out rebellion against God.

I'm wondering, I'm thinking back also to, like, why would Moses tell these people go see if this land is good or bad? Like isn't that some kind of setup? But at the same time, what strikes me is yes, God, the Creator has the ultimate good and bad vision as Creator. What ultimately happens, whether it's intentional or not intentional, is that after Adam and Eve also partake in the tree of good and evil, we become partners in deciding what's good and bad. I think you said it in a way, the spies needed to go into the land with that Godly perspective, seeing it through the eyes of God. Can they see the land the way God sees the land? That in a sense might be what Moses is asking them about.

I also just one to throw one thing, Beth, into the mix here, which is, isn't it funny that Moses goes and tells them "and is there a tree there?"

Beth: Exactly.

Ami: "Hayesh bah eitz im ayin"?

Beth: Exactly. So what do you make of that? Does Moses think that Israel is the land of Eden, the Garden of Eden, is that what they're about to walk in to?

Ami: It sounds like there's some kind of awareness, whether it's an awareness of the text or it's Moses consciously channeling the story of the Garden of Eden where there's an awareness that we're stepping into similar territory here. The spies going into the land is in a sense re-approaching the garden, and we need to see what's going to happen when they do that.

Moses and the Spies' Test: Eden, Take Two?

Beth: Ami, wasn't that exactly the test in the Garden of Eden? The test in the Garden of Eden, one way of explaining it is it was a test to see whether mankind, whether Adam and Eve could see things through God's perspective and could let God be the arbiter of good and evil as opposed to them. Right, because God says don't eat from this one tree, but Eve looks at the tree and she says mmm, that tree looks good to me, right, that tree looks "tov." So she goes ahead and she says I don't care about God's good and evil, I know my good, my good is that I want to bite into that fruit, and she goes ahead and picks it, right.

Ami: That's so much what we're seeing with the contrast between what God said at the burning bush, that I'm taking you to the land that's good and plentiful, and what the nation ultimately said here which is, it would be better for us to go back to Egypt.

Beth: Exactly.

Ami: Isn't it interesting, Beth, that Moses doesn't only tell them go see what the land is like, go take its fruit but also says "and is there a tree there?" I mean, can you get any more wink, wink than that?

Beth: That's right. I think you're totally right about that. In other words, maybe Moses has the sense that what the people are going to enter, it's a Garden of Eden, take two. Right, they failed that once a long time ago, to see things through God's perspective, and now this is a chance for them to see it anew. They're going to walk into that land, a land which God told him was a land that's good, and the question is can the people bring themselves to see it as good? I don't think it's an easy test because what are the people going to see when they go to the land? On the one hand, yes, they are going to see that it's fertile. But they're also going to see something else, they're also going to see that it's a land inhabited by really strong people who build really strong cities.

Ami: Right.

Beth: That's a real test of faith, for a human in that perspective to be able to say but nonetheless I defer to God as the arbiter of good and evil. He says this is a good land, so I'm going to describe this as a good land.

Ami: Right, and it's interesting, nobody disagrees here with the fact that it's a land flowing with milk and honey. They all say this land makes great food, makes great fruit, it's pumping with milk and with honey. Their big question is do we stand a chance against the people who live there.

Beth: Exactly...

Ami: And that ends up defining it as not a good place for them.

Beth: Exactly. Because of that failure to see things through God's perspective, that failure to defer to God and to say okay God You are the Creator of the world, You get to call the shots about what's good and evil, not me. There's a punishment, and the punishment is that they're never going to be able to see that land. The only people who are going to see it are their children. Let's see how God describes their children. Come with me to Verse 31 and let's look at God's language.

Ami: Verse 31 in what Chapter?

Beth: In Numbers 14.

Ami: Okay, so it says "V'tapchem asher amartem lavaz yihiyeh", your children who you said are going to be taken captive, "v'heiveiti otam", and I'll bring them, "v'yodu et ha'aretz asher me'astem bah", and they will know the land which you were disgusted with.

Beth: Now here's the cool thing about this verse. We started to say in the beginning, of course this is a podcast on Parshat Devarim, we started this whole discussion with Parshat Devarim, which is when Moses retells the story of the spies. So I want us now to go back to Parshat Devarim and see if we can find the verse that parallels this one. Where does Moses restate this? Where does he talk about the fact that the people described their children, they were worried that their children would be taken captives and that God ultimately said that He would bring their children into that land? What verse is that? Take your time, Ami, it's not a pop quiz.

Ami: Okay, I'm searching, I'm searching. Okay, I think I found it, Beth. We're in Deuteronomy, Chapter 1, Verse 39. Again, the word "V'tapchem", it opens with the same word as that last verse we just read. Your children, "asher amartem lavaz yihiyeh", same exact opening, right? Your children who you said were going to be taken captive, "u'veneichem", and your sons, "asher lo yad'u hayom tov v'ra", look at that, who do not know today good and evil, good and bad, "heimah yavo' u'shamah", they are the ones who will come there, "v'lahem etnenah v'hem yirashuhah", I will the land to them, they are the ones who will inherit it.

Who Went Into the Promised Land?

Beth: So there's a couple of things we've got to talk about here. First of all, I think this is nuts, and I think it's nuts for the following reason. This language of knowledge, good and bad, it appears in two contexts in the entire Pentateuch, right? This is one context and you know the other context? What's the other context where we get knowledge, good and bad?

Ami: We have the tree of knowledge, of good and evil.

Beth: Exactly, we're right back in the Garden of Eden. There are these two contexts and that's it. Second thing we have to talk about is, what's going on in the contrast between this verse in Numbers and this verse in Deuteronomy. They seem to be saying the same thing, they seem to be equated. But in Numbers, the children are described as knowing the land, "v'yad'u et ha'aretz", and in Deuteronomy how are the children described?

Ami: Not knowing good and evil.

Beth: What do you make of that? What does it mean that the children that get to inherit the land don't know good and evil, and why should it be that someone who doesn't have knowledge of good and evil, does have knowledge of the land?

Ami: Well I'd say that perhaps based on all the things that we've been noticing until now, if entering the land is somehow Garden of Eden, take two, so knowing good and evil as humans, i.e. not in partnership with God, the way the spies were, the way the previous generation was, that would be an obstacle to being able to enter the land.

Beth: Exactly. In other words, to know good and evil, it's certainly an euphemism, to know good and evil is to not know good and evil. God is the arbiter of good and evil and to have eaten from the tree means that you think you know good and evil. That you think you can arbitrate between good and evil just like God does. But in fact, if you're in such a position that you are a knower of good and evil, that you've eaten from the tree, what it means is that you don't know. You are then unable to have knowledge of the land.

Ami: What it means in the context of the Garden of Eden is that you get kicked out of that garden. Right, Adam and Eve were exiled from the garden after they knew good and evil, so to speak.

Beth: Exactly and is there an exile that follows the sin of the spies.

Ami: Well, the whole generation is going to die off. They just won't be given entry to the land.

Beth: Exactly, so it's a sort of exile. What was the other punishment in the Garden of Eden? There was an exile but there was also a threat that if they ate from the tree something would happen.

Ami: Okay, that they were going to die.

Beth: Do we have a threat of death in the story of the spies?

Ami: We have an outcome of death. They all just die off, that is their fate.

Beth: Which is exactly what happens with Adam and Eve. Right, they don't die immediately, the spies don't die immediately, but God touts their mortality.

Ami: Yes, Beth, I just want to throw in one more thing and I think our listeners can probably do a bit more research into this, but I was noticing when we were flipping through Numbers that the spies are called an "eidah ra'ah", and they come with a "dibah ra'ah". There's a whole bunch of "bad" language in that chapter also which is contrasted with all the good that they are missing out on.

Beth: Exactly, and of course all of those descriptors, that's all God perspective, right? Ami, this link, this being the generation that doesn't know good and evil and therefore it's the generation that can know the land, this is it for me. This makes it clear to me that what was happening with the sending of the spies was the Garden of Eden, part two.

Moses, the Spies... and a Failed Test?

Beth: Moses was setting them up for a test, God was setting them up for a test. With every expectation that they would pass it, with every expectation that a people who had just been liberated from slavery by God and been the beneficiaries of miracle upon miracle performed by God, would be able to defer to God as the arbiter of good and evil. But they failed that test.

They had every reason to be able to see this land as good and instead, they just can't bring themselves to see it, they're too scared by the nations they see and they just can't believe that this God who fought for them and liberated them is going be able to actually clear the path for them and realize the goodness of this land, and so their knowledge actually blinds them.

I think that's what the contrast in Deuteronomy is telling us. The people who know good and evil are unable to know the land, and the people, the generation that will know the land, that's the generation that doesn't know good and evil. God has to start over again, and there's going to be a Garden of Eden, take three with the next generation, and the test will be will that generation be able to see the goodness of the land, even when things are tough and will they be able to defer to God's perspective.

Ami: Beth, I really love the way that you've set up this parallel here. I think that it's very rich, I think there's a lot that can be explored here and expanded. Wow, thank you, thanks for sharing. It was really awesome.

Beth: Yes, it was good, right? That's just a little Garden of Eden humor for you.

Ami: It was good.

Beth: You know, Ami, I don't know if you've been a part of any of the research that's been happening here at Aleph Beta for the new Ninth of Av video that's coming out. It really relates to a lot of these ideas about the Garden of Eden and who gets to call good and who gets to call bad. You know listeners, you should check it out, it's going to be coming out please God this year on the Ninth of Av. I think that that will really enrich the story for you.

Ami: Wow, I'm excited and I'm glad we've had this introduction to get us ready to jump into the Ninth of Av course too.

Beth: Awesome. Thanks so much Ami, looking forward to doing it with you again soon.

Ami: Okay. Thanks, Beth.

Beth: Just a reminder, everyone, if you haven't subscribed already, make sure you do so now and if you haven't already, now's the time to go ahead, go on to the app store and give us five stars so all your friends can find us. Good learning Torah with you all.

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