This week’s Torah Reading tells of Moshe’s sending twelve spies into the Holy Land to reconnoiter. Moshe chose qualified leaders to be the spies, telling them what to do. Unfortunately, Bnei Yisrael and the spies themselves questioned Hashem’s word. Rashi in Devarim states that had they not questioned God’s statement about the Promised Land, the people could have possibly entered Eretz Yisrael without fighting. Lives of many people, including many tens of thousands of Canaanites, as well as the entire generation that left Egypt, would have been spared. One sin leads to another. When the sin involved is a lack of faith, that sin weakens the very foundation of the structure of the religion and the relationship between Bnei Yisrael and Hashem.
The text tells us that the spies ascended into the Negev desert area and then he came to Chevron. The obvious question is why the verb changed from plural to singular in the text. All the spies came to the Promised Land but only one of them went to Chevron, and that one, according to the Gemara (Sotah 34b) was Calev. In that Talmudic reference Rava teaches us that Calev departed from the body of spies and went to pray at the patriarchal graves so that he would be saved from the evil counsel of the spies. The essential teaching of Rava’s statement is that it is possible for one individual to stand up and be against the current when the majority of people are going in the wrong direction. To swim against the current is a very difficult thing to do. There is no question that Calev was seeking divine inspiration and strength from his ancestry in order to fight the majority. The usage of the ancestors here is quite appropriate. Not just because we have a concept of the merits of the ancestors, but also because each of our patriarchs swam against the current. Nobody else had an idea of monotheism at that time. They went against the grain of society. That is why they were called Ivrim. They came from the other side of the river. They truly stood out and chartered their own course in life. The statement here that the rabbis are teaching us is not only to compliment Calev but also teach us a lesson that it is necessary for the Jewish people to stand up frequently and chart a course of life contrary to the mainstream.
The sin of the spies was one of speaking ill of the land, of Lashon HaRa. It is prohibited to speak Lashon HaRa, evil speech, against anybody. It is also prohibited to speak Lashon HaRa about yourself; and in the context of our parsha, to speak Lashon HaRa about Eretz Yisrael.