Shlach - in Classical Rabbinic Interpretation - Numbers Chapter 13

Numbers Chapter 13

Resh Lakish interpreted the words “Send you” in Numbers 13:2 to indicate that God gave Moses discretion over whether to send the spies. Resh Lakish read Moses’ recollection of the matter in Deuteronomy 1:23 that “the thing pleased me well” to mean that agreeing to send the spies pleased Moses well but not God. (Babylonian Talmud Sotah 34b.)

Rabbi Isaac said that the spies’ names betrayed their lack of faith, and that Sethur’s name (in Numbers 13:13) meant that he undermined (sathar) the works of God. And Rabbi Johanan said that the name of Nahbi the son of Vophsi (in Numbers 13:14) meant that he hid (hikbi) God’s words. (Babylonian Talmud Sotah 34b.)

Raba noted that Numbers 13:22 literally reads “they went up into the South, and he came to Hebron,” and deduced from the change in the number of the pronoun that Caleb separated himself from the spies’ plan and prostrated himself in prayer on the graves of the patriarchs in Hebron. (Babylonian Talmud Sotah 34b.)

Interpreting the names Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai in Numbers 13:22, a Baraita taught that Ahiman was the most skilful of the brothers, Sheshai turned the ground on which he stepped into pits, and Talmai turned the ground into ridges when he walked. It was also taught that Ahiman built Anath, Sheshai built Alush, and Talmai built Talbush. They were called “the children of Anak” (the giant) because they seemed so tall that they would reach the sun. (Babylonian Talmud Yoma 10a.)

Cush Mizraim Put Canaan

A Baraita interpreted the words “and Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt” in Numbers 13:22 to mean that Hebron was seven times as fertile as Zoan. The Baraita rejected the plain meaning of “built,” reasoning that Ham would not build a house for his younger son Canaan (in whose land was Hebron) before he built one for his elder son Mizraim (in whose land was Zoan, and Genesis 10:6 lists (presumably in order of birth) “the sons of Ham: Cush, and Mizraim, and Put, and Canaan.” The Baraita also taught that among all the nations, there was none more fertile than Egypt, for Genesis 13:10 says, “Like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt.” And there was no more fertile spot in Egypt than Zoan, where kings lived, for Isaiah 30:4 says of Pharaoh, “his princes are at Zoan.” And in all of Israel, there was no more rocky ground than that at Hebron, which is why the Patriarchs buried their dead there, as reported in Genesis 49:31. But rocky Hebron was still seven times as fertile as lush Zoan. (Babylonian Talmud Ketubot 112a.)

The Gemara interpreted the words “between two” in Numbers 13:23 to teach that the scouts carried the large cluster of grape on two staffs. Rabbi Isaac said that the scouts carried the grapes with a series of balancing poles. The Gemara explained that eight spies carried the grape-cluster, one carried a pomegranate, one carried a fig, and Joshua and Caleb did not carry anything, either because they were the most distinguished of them, or because they did not share in the plan to discourage the Israelites. (Babylonian Talmud Sotah 34a.)

Rabbi Johanan said in the name of Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai that the words “And they went and came to Moses” in Numbers 13:26 equated the going with the coming back, indicating that just as they came back with an evil design, they had set out with an evil design. (Babylonian Talmud Sotah 35a.)

The Gemara reported a number of Rabbis’ reports of how the Land of Israel did indeed flow with “milk and honey,” as described in Exodus 3:8 and 17, 13:5, and 33:3, Leviticus 20:24, Numbers 13:27 and 14:8, and Deuteronomy 6:3, 11:9, 26:9 and 15, 27:3, and 31:20. Once when Rami bar Ezekiel visited Bnei Brak, he saw goats grazing under fig trees while honey was flowing from the figs, and milk dripped from the goats mingling with the fig honey, causing him to remark that it was indeed a land flowing with milk and honey. Rabbi Jacob ben Dostai said that it is about three miles from Lod to Ono, and once he rose up early in the morning and waded all that way up to his ankles in fig honey. Resh Lakish said that he saw the flow of the milk and honey of Sepphoris extend over an area of sixteen miles by sixteen miles. Rabbah bar Bar Hana said that he saw the flow of the milk and honey in all the Land of Israel and the total area was equal to an area of twenty-two parasangs by six parasangs. (Babylonian Talmud Ketubot 111b–12a.)

Rabbi Johanan said in the name of Rabbi Meir that the spies began with a true report in Numbers 13:27 and then spoke ill in Numbers 13:28, because any piece of slander needs some truth in the beginning to be heard through to the end. (Babylonian Talmud Sotah 35a.)

Rabbah interpreted Numbers 13:30 to report that Caleb won the people over with his words, for he saw that when Joshua began to address them, they disparaged Joshua for failing to have children. So Caleb took a different tack and asked, “Is this all that Amram's son has done to us?” And as they thought that Caleb was about to disparage Moses, they fell silent. Then Caleb said, “He brought us out of Egypt, divided the sea, and fed us manna. If he were to ask us to get ladders and climb to heaven, should we not obey? And then Caleb said the words reported in Numbers 13:30, “We should go up at once, and possess the land, for we are well able to overcome it.” (Babylonian Talmud Sotah 35a.)

Rabbi Hanina bar Papa read the spies to say in Numbers 13:31 not “they are stronger than we” but “they are stronger than He,” questioning God’s power. (Babylonian Talmud Sotah 35a, Arakhin 15a.)

The Mishnah noted that the evil report of the scouts in Numbers 13:32 caused God to seal the decree against the Israelites in the wilderness in Numbers 14:22–23. The Mishnah thus deduced that one who speaks suffers more than one who acts. (Mishnah Arakhin 3:5; Babylonian Talmud Arakhin 15a.)

Rav Mesharsheya said that Numbers 13:33 proved that the spies were liars, for though they might well have known that they saw themselves as grasshoppers, they had no way of knowing how the inhabitants of the land saw them. (Babylonian Talmud Sotah 35a.)

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