A Lack of Gratitude Is the Real Sin of the Spies Episode


Before the recent conflict originating in Gaza, some had taken the existence of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel for granted.

This lack of appreciation is not something new. Our Torah reading this week tells the story

Throughout their 40 years in the desert, the people of Israel were described as a stiff-necked people, and complainers. Often their unhappiness was due to a lack of physical needs such as water, or food which did not meet their tastes.

But there were two sins that they committed that stood out above all the rest. The first was the sin of the Golden Calf. When Moshe, their leader, failed to appear to them after being up on Mount Sinai for 40 days, they made an idol, the Golden Calf. The second sin they committed is described in this week’s portion: the sin of the scouts.

When 10 of the 12 scouts return from Canaan with a report of a fruitful land flowing with milk and honey, but heavily fortified and populated by giants and powerful people against whom they would have to fight, the Israelites panicked, cried and were determined to return to Egypt.

My initial reaction is that the Golden Calf is the worse of the two transgressions, because the people committed the three cardinal sins: idolatry, adultery (Genesis 39:17) and murder (of Hur, who had been appointed together with Aaron to lead the people during Moses’ absence [see Exodus 24:14]). However, if we judge the two on the basis of the punishments meted out, the answer is that the sin of the scouts was much more grievous.

About 3,000 people died because of the Golden Calf, we are told. However, because they desired to return to Egypt after hearing the scouts’ report, that whole generation of people over the age of 20 were condemned to die in the desert (with the exception of Caleb and Joshua). And the Sages tell us that the very day the people received the scouts’ report was the Ninth of Av, established for all time as a date of mourning and sadness.

The severity of the punishment was due, first and foremost, to a lack of trust in Hashem. God was shown to defeat the mighty nation of Egypt, split the Sea of Reeds, give them manna from Heaven and water from a rock — and of course He freed them from slavery. Now they doubted His word, that He would lead them into the Promised Land? They believed in the slandering of that land and lacked gratitude, a necessary positive quality for every human being.

There is a fascinating insight by the Arizal (Rabbi Isaac Luria, 1534-1572): He says that the mitzvah of Bikkurim, the offering of the first fruits in the Temple, is a tikkun, or rectification, of that grave sin, and the perfect counterpoint to the acts described in the portion. The mitzvah is described in Dvarim 26:1-11. The 10 scouts spoke negatively of the Land, so we must take extra measures to show our appreciation by bringing the first fruits.

The Mishnah, in Tractate Bikkurim (3:1) mentions only three of the seven species that are brought, the fig, grape, and the pomegranate, the very same three fruits in our portion (13:23). The scouts opened their mouths and slandered the Land with adverse comments, while the farmer in the Temple recites a formula recounting the history of coming to the land flowing with milk and honey, showing his appreciation and trust in Hashem, and gratitude for bringing him to the place promised to his forefathers.

Today we read about youth who do not have the same connection to Israel as did their parents. Post-Zionism is a lack of appreciation and thanks for the great gift that has been given to us. It may not be a coincidence that Ki Tavo, the portion that begins with the great joy and thanksgiving of the farmer and the first fruits, ends with the Tochacha, the “curses” that may befall those who do not rejoice in Hashem’s gift.

We must stand tall as giants, with a sense of appreciation and gratitude to the One who has neither slumbered nor slept.

It is our task to inculcate our youth with appreciation for the bountiful land given to God’s people in our time. The fleshpots of the Diaspora can never substitute for the place that God has bestowed to us through our ancestors, the Land of Israel. We must never look at ourselves as grasshoppers (13:33), but we must stand tall as giants, with a sense of appreciation and gratitude to the One who has neither slumbered nor slept, watching over our people upon their return to their home for these past 73 years.

And maybe that is the final tikkun of the errors of our ancestors in the desert.

Fred Ehrman is a retired investment adviser and security analyst. He has held leadership positions in several Jewish organizations. He is on his fourth cycle of Daf Yomi.

Candlelighting, Readings

Friday, June 4, 2021
Sivan 24, 5781

Light candles at 8:05 pm.


Torah Reading: Sh’lach: Numbers 13:1 – 15:41
Haftarah: Joshua 2:1-24

Shabbat ends 9:14 pm.