In this week’s parshah we find the tragic episode of the spies; “You cried for nothing, therefore I    (G-d) will establish a crying for generations” (Medrash). Poised to enter the Promised Land of Israel, the Bnei Yisroel send out spies to investigate the state of this land. Upon returning, the spies give a negative report, and the Bnei Yisroel break into complaints against Hashem. The punishment they are given is to remain in the desert for an additional 40 years, one year corresponding to each day spent by the spies in Eretz Yisroel. This midah keneged midah, measure for measure punishment requires an explanation. The sin of the spies and of Bnei Yisroel wasn’t being in Eretz Yisroel, it was talking ill of Eretz Yisroel and complaining about G-d. Why does the punishment focus on the duration of spies’ stay in Eretz Yisroel?

I heard the following explanation from R’Avrohom Hillel Sinason, of Heichal Hatorah. Rashi says that when the spies went into Eretz Yisroel, they were shocked to find the natives busy with many funerals. They therefore reported to the waiting Bnei Yisroel that the Land of Israel was a land that “consumes its inhabitants”. What they failed to realise was that G-d had specifically arranged for the natives to be busy in this way, so as to distract them from noticing the spies. In other words, the mistake of the spies was that they viewed the Land with “half empty” glasses; the had a negative attitude which affected everything they saw, transforming a perfect land and Divine support into very negative points, which they then reported to Bnei Yisroel. The root of the sin of the spies was then this negative, pessimistic attitude adopted by the spies through their tour of Eretz Yisroel and subsequently by Bnei Yisroel. The punishment they received reflected this; they were punished for every day that they looked at Eretz Yisroel with this negative attitude. This was the midah behind the sin of the spies.

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