Twelve Spies, Conspiracies, Two Men in the Middle — Sound Familiar? | Aleph Beta

Spies. Conspiracies. And The Two Men Caught In The Middle — Sound Familiar?

Spies. Conspiracies. And The Two Men Caught In The Middle — Sound Familiar?


Beth Lesch


In Parshat Shelach, we read the story of the spies who ventured to the land of Israel and brought back a false report to the Israelites. But there’s something very strange about their report. Aside from being inaccurate, it’s strikingly similar to another story we’ve heard. A group of twelve men, ten of whom committed a terrible sin and two of whom were innocent — sound familiar? Join Rivky and Beth as they re-examine the text of the spy story — and never think about Parshat Shelach the same way again.


Rivky: Hello and welcome back to Parsha Lab. I'm Rivky Stern, executive producer at Aleph Beta.

Beth: And I am Beth Lesch, a writer here at Aleph Beta.

Rivky: Beth, welcome to your first episode.

Beth: Oh, thanks Rivky. You know, there's nothing I'd rather be doing.

Rivky: I can imagine. Reminder to all of you out there. If you like what you're hearing do not miss another episode. Subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, Stitcher, Soundcloud or wherever else you get your podcast. And if you want to hear way more, check out where we have hundreds of hours of content. You can get, sort of, watching for free or for a small monthly fee there's basically unlimited content and best of all, Beth, this is a new thing Parsha Lab listeners get a special coupon, 50 percent off your first month. Just put in the coupon code parshalab when you join. Okay, Beth. Let's get into it. Let's talk about Parashat Shelach.

Beth: Okay. So here we go. Parashat Shelach, I was reading through it last night and I noticed some things that sounded familiar. So I kept digging and I found more and more and more stuff. It really seems to be something here. I'm not sure what to make of it yet. I have a lot of questions. So what I want you and me, Rivky, to do is to play with it all together. Here, I'm going to take you through it. You know, listeners I'll take you through it too and we'll all see if we can have some fun with it.

Rivky: Okay. I'm excited, Beth. Let's dive in.

Beth: Here's the deal. Let's start with the story of the spies because that's the main drama that happens in Parashas Shelach. Rivky, what do you remember? What are the main themes? What are the main elements in the story of the spies? How would you recount it?

The 12 Spies in the Bible

Rivky: So Parashat Shelach, right at the beginning of this week's parashah, God tells Moses, Moses send out some people and they're going to spy out the land, the Land of Canaan which we're about to come to; the land that I'm going to give you, the People of Israel and then Moses basically does so. He sends out a bunch of people. He sends out a bunch of people. He sends one person out from each tribe and then they come back and they give a report. They give a report to the whole People of Israel and they say oh, my God it was beautiful, but actually it was also a little bit scary.

I think it was that the people were, kind of, scary. There were some intense fortifications and they were, like, actually, you know the land is beautiful, but I don't think we're going to be able to handle this. Then the people basically freaked out.

Beth: So it's Parashas Freakout.

Rivky: Ooh, beautiful.

Beth: Parashas Freakout. So here is what I'm hearing you saying. I'm going to say it back to you and as I say this back to you, I want you to be thinking where have I heard this before? Where else have they come up? Okay?

You have this story of Bnei Yisrael (the Children of Israel), right? When that term comes up, in the Torah, what do you usually make of it? What does it usually mean?

Rivky: Bnei Yisrael? I mean it's the nation, it's the People of Israel.

Beth: All right. So it's the People of Israel, but literally it means something more specific than that, right?

Rivky: Right. The children of Israel. Israel, of course, is the other name for Jacob, one of our forefathers.

Beth: And it seems like there's maybe a little bit more of a precise reenactment going here going on of Bnei Yisrael in so far as Moses – who does he appoint to actually go and do the spying?

Rivky: Yeah. There was on person from each tribe and, of course, the tribes are the 12 sons of Jacob, of Israel.

Beth: Awesome. So you have these 12 men and the 12 men are basically the Bnei Yisrael. They're the representatives of the larger generic BY, but they are a reenactment of the BY.

Rivky: All right. I like that.

Beth: So someone, in this case Moses, someone takes these men and sends them on a mission. The language that the verse uses is Shelach. That's the name of the parashah. He sends them on a mission and what's the mission? The mission is that they're supposed to go see something. They're supposed to see and what else are they supposed to do?

Rivky: They're supposed to see and then report back.

Beth: Exactly. They bring back words. The language that's used by the verse is "heishiv davar," return word. So they go and – now, by the way, all this is taking place in the Land of Canaan – they go, they come back and when they come back mourning ensues.

Rivky: Uh-huh. I think I'm, kind of, getting a flavor here, but keep going.

Beth: Okay and one other thing, one other element that I'll point out to you which is of those 12 men that got sent out on this mission, clearly something went wrong because the people responded with mourning, but did all 12 of them do something wrong or...

Rivky: No.

Beth: So how many – who were the good guys and who were the bad guys?

Rivky: There were 10, sort of, bad guys and that was the representative of all of the tribes except for two tribes. Judah, whose representative Caleb the son of Yefuneh. He actually stood up and said to the People of Israel don't be scared, don't worry, we got this when they seemed to be afraid. The other one was Hoshei'a the son of Nun, who was Yehoshua (Joshua), who was the representative of Ephraim. Actually, this is the point where, I think, his name was changed from Hoshei'a the son of Nun to Joshua.

So it was every, the good guys here were the representatives from Judah and Ephraim and the bad guys was everyone else.

Beth: So the story of the Children of Israel, 12 men each one representing one of the children of Israel, go out on a mission, someone is shelach them, they're supposed to see something, they're supposed to bring back word, they come back, 10 of them do something terrible, two of them are innocent and mourning ensues. What does this remind you of? Where else have you heard this before?

Parallels to the 12 Spies in the Bible

Rivky: Okay. So I mean the parallels exactly line up as, I think that's part of what we're going to explore is if this is the correct story, but it feels like the sale of Joseph. Right? It feels like when Jacob sent out his sons – and you tipped me off, Beth, with the language of Bnei Yisrael, the sons of Israel – but Jacob, Israel sent out Joseph to go find his other sons and he said to him oh, they're shepherding out there go and get them. When he goes to find them, of course, he's sold down and ends up in Egypt and then when the brothers come home and they say hey, actually we think Joseph died. Of course they're lying to their father, but basically disaster ensues there.

Beth: Just in case some of our listeners want to see how this gets ground in the verses themselves, I mean, so just come with me for a second to the story of the sale of Joseph, Genesis 37, Verse 14. Jacob sending Joseph on a mission. "Lech na u're'ei et shalom achecha v'et shalom hatzon," so go and see the welfare of your brothers and the welfare of their flock, "v'hashiveini davar vayishlacheihu mei'emek Chevron vayavo Shechemah," bring back word and he sends him out from the valley of Hebron and he comes to Nablus.

What words do you see in here already in here that are setting off a warning signal that reminds you of, reminds you of the spies?

Rivky: I mean, the first instinct to me is just shelach. Our parashah starts with "shelach lecha anashim," send out men and in the same way "vayishalcheihu," he sends him out.

Beth: So we have shelach. Come with me to Shelach and we'll see if we can find some of these words reappearing. Take a look at Verse 18. What does he tell them to do? Go up into the mountains and...

Rivky: "U're'item et ha'aretz," and you should see the land.

Beth: Good. So I'm sending you. Okay. So do you see that same language of seeing? Does it look like the same verb?

Rivky: So yeah, because if you go back to Jacob he says, "lech na re'eih," go and see. Go and check on the welfare of your brothers and of the flock, but it uses the same language of re'eih, go see this thing. Interesting, cool.

Beth: Exactly. Now, come with me to Verse – to Chaf-Vav to – 26. The spies go and then they come back and what do they do when they come back?

Rivky: "Vayashivu otam davar v'et kol ha'eidah," and they bring back word onto them and to the whole nation. Very cool. So if you go back into the story of Jacob and Joseph it's the same thing. What happens? "Vehashiveinu davar." Jacob tells Joseph and bring back word. Report back to me afterwards how's everything going?

Now, I see the next lines also. Right? So what happens in the story of the spies, in our parashah? "Vayar'um et pri ha'aretz." So what do they do? They don't only give back word, they show them the fruit of the land.

Well, you know the story of Jacob and Joseph. What happens when the brothers actually return? They show their father something. They show him that bloody coat.

Beth: Very nice. They show him the bloody coat.

Rivky: Sorry, if I'm jumping the gun a little bit, but I'm getting excited.

Beth: No, no, no, no. And then what does Jacob say when he sees the coat? What does he think happened on the basis of seeing that coat?

Rivky: What the brothers want him to think. He think that he was killed.

Beth: Killed how?

Rivky: "Chayah ra'ah achaltihu," some sort of wild animal destroyed him and ate him.

Beth: Now, stay with me for just a sec. Back to the story of the spies, what do they say about the land?

Rivky: Oh, interesting. So when they're saying that basically they're like this isn't worth it, we're going to get killed, we're going to get destroyed the language they use is "ha'aretz asher avarnu bah latur otah," the land that we came to sort of check out, "eretz ochelet yoshvehah hi," this is a land that eats its inhabitants. Right? It's the same language as, it almost makes it sound like the land is some sort of crazy animal that it's just going to eat everyone there. The same way this wild animal ate Joseph.

Beth: Exactly. So this is a land that devours its inhabitants. Now, let's see some more of these parallels because I'm telling you, Rivky, I was looking at this last night and the more I looked the more I saw.

Rivky: Okay. Keep going.

Beth: Now, let's look at what happens. We already said, you know, I gave you a heads up. There's a mourning that happens in reaction to the spies' report. So let's take a look at, I think, this is going to be in Chapter 14, of Numbers, right. So we see the first reaction from the people in the first verse there.

Rivky: "Vatisa kol ha'eidah vayitunu et kolam," so they all, sort of, lifted up their voices, "vayivku ha'am balaylah hahu," and then they just, they started crying and they wept that whole night.

Beth: So we have crying. Come with me down to Verse 6.

Rivky: Okay. So that's when basically the two guys who we said were the good guys, which were Joshua and Caleb, they basically are distraught. So what do they do? "Yehoshua bin Nun v'Caleiv ben Yefuneh," Joshua and Caleb, "min hatarim et ha'aretz," two of the spies of the Land, "karu bigdeihem," they tore their clothes.

Beth: We have crying. We have tearing of clothes. Come with me down to Verse 39, Lamed-Tes. What else did they do in reaction?

Rivky: Basically, at this point, the people know that they're going to be punished greatly for this. It's going to be a very, very bad situation. "Vayidabeir Moshe et hadevarim ha'eilah el kol Bnei Yisrael." Moses tells them things are not going to go well. God's really mad. People are going to die. All these things. What happens? "Vayit'ablu ha'am me'od," and the people start mourning.

Vayit'ablu, avel that the people start mourning greatly.

Beth: Awesome. Crying, tearing of clothes and mourning. Now, come back to the sale of Joseph. Take a look at the way the Torah describes Jacob's reaction. This is back in Chapter 37, you're looking at Verse 34. What does Jacob do?

Rivky: "Vayikra Yaakov simlotav." As soon as he knows – as soon as he sees the bloody coat and he thinks that an animal has destroyed his son – he immediately tears his clothes. "Vayasem sak b'matnav," and he puts on a sackcloth to wear, "vayit'abel al b'no yamim rabim," and he starts mourning his son and he mourns for many, many days. You know, basically he refuses to be comforted, he continues to mourn and then the end of the verse says "vayeiv'k oto aviv," that his father is, he's weeping for him. He will not be consoled. He just continues to weep.

Beth, very, very cool. Not only is there some sort of similarity between the sins, so to speak, of the spies and of the sale of Joseph, but the reaction to those sins is also the same. It's different people, right, it's like different people involved in the reaction because for the People of Israel it's the spies who acted, the people who sinned and then the people who went through this sort of reaction to it. But then for Jacob and the sale of Joseph, Jacob is the one who gave the instructions similar to the way that God or Moses gave the instructions and then the brothers are the ones who sinned, like the nation as the ones who sinned, but then Jacob is the one who goes through all these verbs that line up with the People of Israel. Even though the People of Israel are the ones who sinned and Jacob, presumably, isn't the one who sinned.

So there's a lot of parallels, but there's also a lot of questions, I think, in sort of the algebra there.

Beth: There's a lot of questions. There's a lot that I want to raise with you here and you're starting to get some of it. Let's finish the game of underlying the parallels and then, I think, we can start to dig into this stuff.

We have stories about the Children of Israel. There's 12 of them. It's a mission. There's the sending of the mission. The mission is to go and see something and to "heishiv davar," to bring back word about it. There's some act of ochel, of devouring, that takes place in the Land of Canaan and when people hear about the devouring they mourn. They mourn with bechiyah (crying), they mourn with hit'avlut and they mourn with the tearing of garments. And one more thing. This is the thing that really -- really, this is the thing that sealed the deal for me.

Come with me back to Numbers, to Verse 32.

Rivky: "Vayotzi'u dibat ha'aretz," and the spies, when they came back, they spread this evil report about the Land.

Beth: Where else do we come across the word dibah? Does that ring any bells for you?

Rivky: Dibah. I mean, I want to say it, but my first instinct is the story of the sale of Joseph, but not because I actually know the content, but just because that's where I'm leaning towards.

Beth: All right. So you have good gambling instincts, Rivky Stern. So the answer is we're in Chapter 37, looking at the sale of Joseph. I want you to scroll, turn, flip up to the second verse in that chapter and tell me what happens.

Rivky: Okay so here we go. This chapter is chock full, right? At the end of it is the actual sale of Joseph. The beginning also includes Joseph's dreams and everything like that. So let me go back to the beginning.

"Eileh toldot Yaakov," these are the toldot, the generations of Jacob, "Yosef ben sh'va-esrei shanah," Joseph was 17 years old, "hayah ro'eh et echav batzon," he was shepherding the flock with his brothers, "v'hu na'ar et bnei Bilhah v'et bnei Zilpah," and he was, I guess, a kid with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, "n'she aviv," the wives of his father, "vayavei Yosef et dibatam ra'ah el avihem," Joseph brings back a dabah, Joseph brings back evil reports of them. He, kind of like, tells on them to his father. Very cool.

Beth: Here's the thing. This word dibah, how many times do you think it appears in the whole Chumash?

Rivky: I'm not very familiar with the word, so my guess, again, if my instincts are correct is two. I'm guessing it appears twice.

Beth: Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. Joseph's report about his brothers and the spies report about the Land. There is a lot of more fun stuff going on here. There's bread in both stories. A couple of other fun things. But I think the linguistic parallels are clearly here. I think there's five or six homeruns.

Rivky: Wait, Beth, I'm actually going to cut you off because I think the instinct, I think, both of us probably have and I think probably everybody listening at home has right now is so what? So what does it mean? But before we dive into that conversation, I want to remind everyone listening at home if you like what you're hearing subscribe. Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Soundcloud. I personally use an app called podcast addict. Maybe that says something more about me, but wherever you get your podcast subscribe to Parsha Lab and if you want to hear way more check out Again, special coupon code, parshalab, one word, when you join.

Okay Beth, now let's get to the cool part. Right? We did the math, we found the connections, we have the parallels, we can set up the charts clearly in our mind and now let's go forward. Now, let's figure out what this even means.

10 Bad Spies, 10 Bad Guys

Beth: I have some thoughts. I have some questions. I need your help. Oh, one other parallel to add to the mix. We didn't even get into this. How many bad guys are there in the story of the sin of the spies?

Rivky: Oh, my God, you're right. Very cool. Shoot, I was thinking this before and I thought we'd get there. The sin of the spies has 10 bad guys. I want to almost say that one neutralish (sic) right, who's Joshua. Who's maybe a little bit quiet, but definitely is not one of bad guys and then Caleb is the one who really stands up. Is the one who really stands up against these 10 and says, no, no, no, no guys you don't understand. This is totally doable. Hey, everyone else, entire nation we got this, we got this.

Also, in the story of the sale of Joseph there also seem to be 10 bad guys of the 12 brothers. There are 12 brothers, but obviously Joseph isn't one of the bad guys. Joseph is the victim. Right? Joseph is the one who is sold and Benjamin, we have this, sort of, fundamental assumption that Benjamin was basically too young and was not part of the sale of Joseph in any way. He wasn't there. Plus, you know, it makes sense. Benjamin and Joseph are "full" quote unquote brothers. They share a mother. What's interesting, though, is also the contrast. We have to explore this. It's pretty interesting to think that Caleb, who's sort of the hero of the spy story, Caleb is from the tribe of Judah.

Beth: And who's Judah in the sale of Joseph story?

Rivky: Judah is the leader of the bad guys, basically. Judah is the one who says to his brothers, "lechu v'nimkirenu l'Yishma'eilim," come let's sell him to the Ishmaelites. Let's not kill him. What's the point of that? Let's do something smarter. Let's actually sell him. Let's make a little money. Let's make a little profit about it. But the future of Judah's tribe generations later, Caleb, Caleb does the opposite. Caleb stands up against the group. Pretty interesting stuff, Beth.

Beth: Yeah and there's even more evidence than what we've gone into. It's really unbelievable so I encourage anyone who has time to sit and try to have fun with it. I think there's another conceptual parallel between these two sins, these two accounts; the sin of the spies and the sin of the sale of Joseph which I think these pieces of evidence are pointing us to.

We know that the sin of the spies led to a very specific and very tragic consequence. What was the tragic consequence of the sin of the spies?

Biblical Consequences of the Spies' Actions

Rivky: It was the major delay. It was the entire nation died and there was a 40-year delay before the people were allowed to enter the Land of Israel. Before the sin of the spies, the people were going to go straight into the Land of Canaan. Right? It was supposed to be a pretty quick journey. The people were going to go straight in, but after the sin of the spies, basically, God says to the people look, you're obviously not ready for this. This is not going to happen. Instead, the entire nation has to die out and their children, their descendants they will be allowed into the Land, 40 years later.

Beth: So what I'm hearing you say is you have this story about the Children of Israel, God has a plan for the people and the plan involves coming to His land and settling it and flourishing in His land. But then there's this sin committed amongst the Children of Israel and as a result of that sin, God has to intervene and He institutes a waiting period. He says you're not ready for this. You need a little while longer before you can come to My land and settle in it. How much longer? Forty years. What's the parallel, is there a parallel to the sale of Joseph?

Rivky: Oh my God. Beth, this is so, so cool.

Beth: Yeah, you like it?

Rivky: Let me just think it out and tell me if I'm missing pieces or tell me if this wasn't exactly what you had in mind. Basically, what was happening with the sons of Jacob? Jacob was the first one – Abraham didn't really get to do this. Isaac didn't really get to this. Jacob was the first one who really was able to settle in the Land of Israel, which wasn't yet, obviously, the Land of Israel, that's him, but it was the first one to sort of settle in this land. He was building a family in this land. He was able to bring everyone back from the house of Laban and he was building this nation.

However, then after the sale of Joseph, when Joseph goes down to Egypt, becomes a powerful person basically the entire family ends up moving down. They all leave the Land of Canaan. It's like God, sort of, saying like look this clearly wasn't meant to be. If it weren't for the sale of Joseph we can only imagine what could have been. The Nation of Israel could have started. There would be no Exodus. There would be no slavery. There would be no need to bring the people through the desert, through the 40-year journey. There would be no sin of the spies. None of this would have happened without Chapter 37 of Genesis. Without the sale of Joseph.

It's crazy that – I mean, it's depressing but it's a fascinating thing – to imagine what could have been and then in some ways it’s so sad.

Beth: It's tragic. Come with me to the beginning – again, the beginning of the chapter of the sale of Joseph. Rabbi Fohrman makes this point and I love this. "Vayeishev Yaakov b'eretz megurei aviv b'Eretz C'na'an." The dream could have and was supposed to start with Jacob. That was God's Plan A. Right?

Rabbi Fohrman says look at this language. There's a few different ways that you can say to settle and two of them appear in this verse. What do you see?

Rivky: There's "vayeishev Yaakov" and there's "b'eretz megurei aviv."

Beth: Okay so lagur and lashevet. How are those words different?

Rivky: Vayeishev is living. Vayeishev isn't visiting. Vayeishev isn't like kind of putting up a tent. Vayeishev is building a foundation. Vayeishev is building a house and saying good, I found it. I found the place I'm retiring. I found the place I'm raising – not only raising my children, I'm going to be hosting my grandchildren. Vayeishev is really living there and this is your future and this is what you're building.

"B'eretz megurei aviv," gur, to gur is, sort of, visiting. What Jacob is saying here is, like, look, what I'm getting to do – and this is, you're right, Rabbi Fohrman's theory – what I'm getting to do is what my father and my grandfather they never got to do this. They lived in Canaan, but they were more visitors. They didn't get to really, really settle this land.

Beth: They were renters.

Rivky: Yes and it's really incredible because the contrast between "vayeishev Yaakov b'eretz megurei aviv" Jacob has finally just settling. He's finally living there, "b'Eretz C'na'an". This is it until a few chapters later when he leaves and he doesn't even want to go, right? But God tells him no, no, no, no this is part of the, this is in the cards. This is what's supposed to happen. You have to leave.

Beth: Right, right and you're rushing ahead. But if you're just here in 37 and you've never read the Torah before and you get up to this verse this is where you think the dream is going to be realized. The dream that God made back to Abraham in the covenant of the pieces, in Chapter 15, you think that Jacob is about to start the dream. Then what happens in the very next verse? Dibah, dibah and it unravels coming out of the dibah.

I wonder if that's not part of, part of what we're supposed to be learning from these stories.

The Spiritual Lesson Behind the 12 Spies in the Bible

There was the sin of Joseph. The Torah isn't clear about the fact that the decent to Egypt and the slavery for 400 years in Egypt was a consequence of the sale of Joseph, but I wonder if that's what these parallels are telling us. That we went down to Egypt, we stayed there as slaves and the 400 years weren't enough.

We showed that when it came to the sin of the spies. We needed 40 more. We needed one more generation to die out before we were really ready to exist as brothers and to actually inherit the land.

Rivky: Yeah, I mean it's devastating to think about, right? In the same way that it's almost like Jacob's ready to settle and God says to him, like, look I know you wanted to do this and I wanted it for you also, but, you know, look at what's happening around you, clearly we're not at that stage yet. I'm sorry, but it's not time.

It's almost like the same, it's like Moses is maybe the Jacob character here and God's saying look I wanted the people to be ready also. I also wanted to bring them into Canaan and for this whole period to be over, but, you know what, look, they're not ready yet. We need a little bit more time.

Beth: Here's the thing, Rivky. The textual parallels are there. I think they speak for themselves and the consequences of the sins seem to be the same. The consequences of both sins seem to be that these are key turning points in the history of the Children of Israel where God has a plan for his people, but the people commit some sin that causes God to intervene and institute a waiting period before they can really settle His land and flourish as a family. The consequences are the same.

However, what I still don't understand is how are the sins fundamentally similar? How is Joseph speaking dibah about his brothers – bringing an evil report about his brothers – how is that fundamentally similar to the sin of the spies, speaking dibah about the Land? I don't know. We don't even what was the content of the dibah. What was it? We know what the spies said. What did Joseph say about his brothers?

Rivky: It's interesting, right? I mean, I don't know the answer, but right now I'm thinking so what is it that's so devastating about speaking ill of other people? Mom, you won't believe what my sister did to me, right? What's the problem there? Why does that bother my mom? Why is that so fundamentally upsetting?

Because my sister and I are supposed to be in relationship with each other. Our job is not to, sort of, be telling on each other. Yeah, sometimes my sister's going to do things that bother me. I'm going to do things that bother her. The reason that's problematic, though, is because we're supposed to love each other. That relationship is one that's meant to be based on love and when – this is just a theory, I'm just sort of thinking this out – when Joseph goes to Jacob and says, like, look at what these guys are doing, look at what's going on, whatever, he's, sort of, breaking apart their relationship. He's thinking about his relationship with Jacob. Maybe he's, like, oh, I want to be the favorite and I want to be this. There's something there, but he's ruining the relationship between brother and brother.

That breakdown, I think, is painful – it's painful for Joseph. It's painful, obviously, for his brothers, for the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah and it's also painful for Jacob because Jacob wants his sons to be in relationship with each other. And it's painful for God. Meaning, this whole thing, right, so much of Torah is about building relationships. Relationships with one another, relationships within our family, relationships outside our family, relationships with God and this sort of dibah is a breakdown of relationship.

It's not exactly the same thing, but in Shelach, when the spies go and they come back to the People of Israel and they have these evil reports about the Land it's like they're breaking relationship between people and land, right? What do we talk about all the time in Torah? There are two things that God promises us. There are two things that are part of the covenant. What will God give us? God will give us two things.

Beth: Land and we get kids.

Rivky: Yes. Land and kids or put differently we have a relationship with family and we have a relationship with land and when we bring dibah about this land what we're saying is hey, God, You promised this to us? No, no, no, no. There is a problem with this relationship. There is a breakdown here. It's devastating.

Again, I feel like I keep coming back to this language, but it seems like that's really something there. I'm not sure. I feel like I'm not even articulating it really well, Beth, but do you hear kind of where I'm going or what I'm saying?

Beth: I hear you're saying a few different things and I want to try to disentangle them. I mean, on the one hand there's clearly some kind of toxic tribalism that finds its way into the Children of Israel, in the case of the sale of Joseph. I mean, if you go back to the chapter right before this, you go back to Chapter 36 you see this. We actually don't hear very much about the children – oh, no, it's actually two chapters before, Chapter 35 – we don't hear very much about what the children of Jacob do and how they act, but then all of a sudden we hear something. We hear in Verse 22 that Reuben did this thing which seems to be really bad. Reuben went and lay with Bilhah, his father's concubine. Right? And Israel heard of it.

That's really the only thing that we heard about any kind of action that the children of Jacob have taken. Then, what does the Torah tell us immediately after that, it even picks up in that very verse? The sons of Jacob were 12, but they weren't really 12 because they were subdivided in all of these crazy tribalistic (sic) toxic ways. Keep on reading and see what you see.

Rivky: Right. "Bnei Leah bechor Yaakov Reuven," the sons of Jacob, Reuben's the firstborn, "v'Shimon v'Levi Yehudah Yissaschar Zevulun," and then there's all these other kids. "Bnei Rachel," and then there's Rachel, "Yosef v'Binyamin," she has these two sons, Joseph and Benjamin. "U'v'nei Bilhah," and who are the sons of Bilhah, "shifchat Rachel," oh, by the way she's also the handmaid of Rachel, "Dan v'Naftali." "U'v'nei Zilpah shifchat Leah," and another handmaid this one of Leah, she has also more children, "Gad v'Asher," two more kids, "eileh bnei Yaakov asher yulad lo b'Padan Aram," and these are the sons of Jacob who were born to him in Padan Aram.

It’s interesting, right? In some ways tribalism is a good thing. It gives us a sense of community. It gives us, sort of, this micro group that we can be affiliated with, but it seems like the Torah keeps saying bnei Yaakov like it wants us to see them as a collective. Right? Bnei Yaakov, Bnei Yisrael. There is something larger, but we also keep, as you said, we also keep, sort of, saying let's focus really on these subgroups. Let's really focus on the children of Leah, separate than the children of Rachel, separate than the children of Bilhah, separate from the children of Zilpah.

Beth: There are all these little factions and I don't know – this is just a theory, this is speculation, but I wonder – I wonder if this isn't where it starts. That Reuben comes and lays with Bilhah and Israel hears of it – when does he hear of it? Who told him?

Rivky: You think that that's what the dibah is?

Beth: Maybe that's what the dibah was and maybe this is when the trouble started. In other words, it's a little out of order, but I think it works. Maybe we hear nothing about the sons. Reuben does this thing which upsets his fellow brothers. They come from different mothers. They sense that their father treats them differently and they're already poised to be adversarial. Then Reuben does this thing and Joseph goes running to his father and tattletales. From then on they're not really the 12 children of Jacob, they're really just the children of Leah, the children of Rachel, the children of Bilhah and the children of Zilpah.

Rivky: I don't know. I mean, I hear what you're saying. I think there is definitely something there and it's really interesting, but I don't think this is where it starts because it just goes further and further and further back. You could say, you know, it doesn't start at the dibah it starts with Reuben's actions. Oh, no, wait. It doesn't start at Reuben's actions, it starts with Leah and Rachel.

Beth: Right and it really goes back to Jacob.

Rivky: Exactly and then it goes even earlier. I think it's so hard. One of the things we say often about Torah is "Ma'aseh Avot siman labanim." That there's us, sort of, playing out the same relationships and the same dynamics generation after generation. Of course, as we see with this story and with Shelach it doesn't end here. We see it continuing obviously in Shelach. It doesn't get fixed. Unfortunately, we see the same dynamics playing out over and over.

What is interesting though, as you mentioned before, is that now, in Shelach, though it's Caleb, from the tribe of Judah who is the leader of Leah's children stand up with Joshua, who is from the tribe of Ephraim from Joseph. So we have now, we have Joseph, we have the son of Joseph and we have the son of Judah standing up together, trying to help, trying to solve this, trying to fix the difficult relationship that is emerging between God and the People of Israel.

There's something really, I don't know, it's so sad to think about what's about to come for the People of Israel, but there's something redemptive about that, just that. It gives us a glimmer of, sort of, hope of repairing this devastation.

Beth: They're saying we're not going to speak dibah this time. Dibah set us off all those generations ago. This time we're going to stand together. It's not going to be brother against brother. It's not going to be me, Judah, casting you Joseph into a pit and selling you to make a little bit of extra money. This time we're going to stand up.

Rivky: Unfortunately, though, there is dibah, right? It's not from these brothers. The son of Judah changes. Caleb and Joshua can't fix this problem, but they can try and that's what they have. You know, they have the start of the fixing.

Beth: We think about the story of the spies as being so tragic. You know, the spies did this terrible thing. God comes in with this punishment, but it just makes me wonder maybe this is really a story of us coming really, really close to the brink of destruction, to the brink of sin and actually stepping back. But maybe we're missing something. Maybe there's something a lot more hopeful in this story. Maybe the point here is that you could have had all 12 of the Children of Jacob engaging in dibah.

All those years ago Joseph started out with the dibah. The Children of Jacob, they committed this terrible sin. You could have had all of the representatives of the tribes on board. What would God have done then? If Caleb and Joshua hadn't stood up against the dibbah what would the punishment have been? It would have a lot of worse than 40 years in the desert. Maybe God would have thrown His hands up right then and said that's it; that's the end of the Torah. That's the end of the journey. But because they stood up...

Rivky: So you think maybe the son of Judah and the son of Joseph standing up together gave God this sense of okay, you know what, it's not irredeemable. Something can come of this. Because look, we fixed this part. Right? There are still issues, but we fixed part this part.

Beth: I don't need another 400 years. I don't need another four generations. I need one more generation. With these two people as the seed, these two people is the foundation that are going to see the next generation. I need my next generation, the generation that enter the Land, to be the Judahs and the Josephs. The people who stand against dibah. The brothers who stand together.

Imagine from both of their perspectives, the one who was thrown into the pit is standing alongside the perpetrator. That's hard. And the one who perpetrated is standing alongside the victim. That's hard too.

That's the seed that God's trying to populate, you know, the inhabitants of the Land with.

Rivky: Beth, that is really, really, really cool. That is really cool. Thank you so, so much for showing this to me and for joining the podcast today because this was incredibly interesting. There's so much that I feel like I want to chew on.

Beth: The parallels are there. I'm telling you there's 3,000 questions. I hope our listeners can dig into this. I hope they can share with us what they come up with because I feel like there's the tip of an iceberg, you know.

Rivky: Exactly and speaking of which, of course, we always love hearing from you. Please, please, please be in touch with us. E-mail us at and, of course, if you like what you're hearing there are so many specific videos and courses that jump out to me. Not to mention, obviously Rabbi Fohrman's book about Exodus which deals with so much about what could have happened and goes back to the story of Joseph and Jacob. But there's also a ton of video courses on this at Please go check it out and, of course, start watching for free or for a small monthly fee including your Parsha Lab coupon. Write parshalab, one word. You can get hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of video and audio content, go check it out.

Beth, thank you so much. Everyone, thank you so much for listening. Bye.

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