(Numbers; Chapter 13, Verse 2) “Send forth for
yourself men, and let them spy out the Land of
Canaan that I Give to the Children of Israel.” Moses
is about to send spies who would ultimately speak
poorly about G-d's promised land. (Verse 32) “They
brought forth to the Children of Israel an evil
report on the land that they had spied out saying,
‘the land through which we have passed devours it
Rashi comments that the spies were guilty of
speaking Loshon Horah (slander) about the Jewish
land, Israel, and that this episode is juxtaposed to
the incident of Miriam speaking Loshon Horah about
her brother, Moses. Miriam was punished with Tzoraas
for speaking Loshon Horah and these wicked ones, the
spies, saw what happened to her but did not take a
lesson from the incident of Miriam to heart.
The spies were punished by death for their deed and
the Children of Israel, between the ages of twenty
and sixty, for believing and accepting the Loshon
Horah (slander), were not allowed to enter the
sacred land and wandered in the dessert for forty
How could the spies make such a fatal error after
witnessing what happened to Miriam? The Torah
testifies that (verse 3) “they were all
distinguished men; heads of the Children of Israel.”
Furthermore, the Torah lists these people in the
order of their greatness. Joshua, the successor of
Moses, was listed fifth. This alone shows us the
greatness of this delegation. (Joshua and Caleb
refused to corroborate with the other ten spies).
How could such great men, who well recognized the
dangers of Loshon Horah, choose to speak wrongly
about the land of Israel?
The truth is that even though they witnessed what
happened to Miriam and fully understood the severity
of Loshon Horah, they failed to fully internalize
the scope of slander. Why? Because the spies
suffered from a fatal character flaw – arrogance.
Despite understanding the complete nature of Loshon
Horah, they were able to rationalize that what
happened to Miriam, in this specific instance, did
not apply to them.
But how could such lofty individuals suffer from
arrogance? The Medrash Rabba (16:4) quotes a verse
in Proverbs (10:21) to explain exactly the flaw in
these spies. “Like vinegar to the palate and smoke
in ones eyes, so too is a lazy messenger.”
From the Medrash Rabba, we discover a tremendous
insight into the nature of arrogance. Why didn’t the
ten spies fully internalize what happened to Miriam?
Because it was easier to rationalize that Miriam’s
situation did not apply to them, than it was to work
on their personal characters. Even the greatest men
of Israel, when faced with hardship, are subject to
the allure of the easy path. The spies succumbed to
arrogance because it was easier than recognizing
their own shortcomings and working on them.