In the beginning of this week’s Parsha, Moshe sends forth twelve men, a leader from each tribe, to investigate the Land of Canaan. Rashi comments, “G-d said to Moshe, ‘I do not command you to do so. If you wish, send forth. I told you that the Land is good. . . I swear by their lives that I will give them room to err through the words of the spies so that they shall not take possession of it.’” In other words, G-d told Moshe, “You want to listen to the people and send spies? It will end up as a disaster.”
The Kli Yakar writes that G-d was critical of Moshe for sending men. He said to Moshe, “In your opinion you want to send men. In my opinion it would be better to send women because they love the Land and won’t tell of its disgrace.” But according to both Rashi and the Kli Yakar, it is clear that G-d was critical of Moshe for sending the spies.
Now, if we look at the haftara for this week, we can see that before the Jews entered the Land of Canaan, Yehoshua also sent spies to the Land. Yet, we find no criticism from G-d of Yehoshua for his decision to send spies. This seems to be a glaring inconsistency. How was Yehoshua’s idea praiseworthy while Moshe’s idea was a recipe for disaster?
We may think that in life, the more the merrier and two heads are better than one. But, perhaps the lesson of the spies is that it is best to avoid grand spectacles, because many times, great expectations stewed by the gathering of minds only seem to bring out the worst in people. Why did G-d sense trouble brewing in Moshe’s spies but not in Yehoshua’s? What was it about the mission of Moshe’s spies that caused righteous people to return with such an evil, destructive report? Moshe’s mission was just too big and too loud for anybody’s good. Everybody knew about the mission and that the spies were the “chosen” leaders of Israel. Although as individuals, each of Moshe’s spies is described as righteous and holy, the sheer largesse of personalities and expectations, the pressure and competition to stand out for greatness, brought out the worst in the most righteous of people. When Yehoshua sent his spies, he kept it small and on a need to know basis.
The litigation consisted of only two people, and the nation did not even know that anybody had been sent to the city of Jericho. There was less pressure of expectations and personalities, and the mission proved to be successful.
We can learn a very important lesson by comparing the fates of Moshe’s and Yehoshua’s spies. The best things, the most enduring acts, are usually performed quietly—away from the pressures of our peers and the public. Of course I should perform charity, but does the whole world need to know that I helped a fellow human being? There is a time and place for setting a public example, but a silent act of righteousness is nearly always the loudest statement one can ever make of an untainted heart. In our comings and goings, we should perform silently and without fanfare in order to ensure that our intentions are truly pure. Like the spies of Yehoshua, we pray that G-d should look upon us with benevolence and bless our virtuous endeavors with fortune and success.