What character trait did Hashem desire that the spies should have?
(13,2) “Send (שלח לך) men who will scout the Land of Canaan.”
Behold, the word לך is superfluous, and therefore Rashi explained in the name of the Midrash that Hashem said to Moshe: שלח לך - Send according to your mind. I am not commanding you, but if you wish, you may send.
But we can also explain it according to another Midrash which says that the spies sinned because they were afraid that once they entered Eretz Yisrael others would be appointed as leaders in their place. From this we see that they were arrogant and pursued honor. Moshe only made sure that they were tzaddikim but did not check to see if they were arrogant, but Hashem’s main criteria was that they should be humble and not pursue honor.
This is what the posuk is saying: “Send לך men” - men that will be similar to you, humble and hating honor like yourself. This in fact could be what Rashi meant when he explained that the word לך means "according to your mind" - that they should all be of the same mindset as you.
Did Hashem desire that spies should be sent?
(13,2) “Send (שלח לך) men who will scout the Land of Canaan.”
Rashi explained the superfluous word לך in the name of the Midrash that Hashem said to Moshe: שלח לך - Send according to your mind. I am not commanding you, but if you wish, you may send. We explained this Rashi above, but there is a better explanation which emerges from the following question: If it was not good in the eyes of Hashem to send spies, why did He not explicitly command not to send them?
But it seems to me that we can give a reason for this. The Ramban asked: What was the sin of the spies? Surely Moshe himself, in sefer Devarim, warned the next generation - “Listen, O Yisrael, today you are crossing the Jordan to come and possess nations greater and stronger than you, great cities, fortified up to the heavens. A great and tall people, the children of the Anakim (the giants), whom you know and of whom you have heard said: Who can stand against the children of Anak?”.
An answer to this is from the sefer Binah Le’ittim, who writes on the posuk in Devarim 7:17 “When you say to yourself: These nations are more numerous than me; how will I be able to drive them out? You shall not fear them…” that it is forbidden for a person to say that "my power and the might of my hand achieved this for me". Therefore, the posuk says that when you will say that these nations are more numerous than me and it is impossible to drive them out naturally and thereby you are acknowledging that it is not within your power, do not fear them, because Hashem will certainly help you since you are not relying on your power and the might of your hands.
According to this, Moshe Rabbeinu knew that Yisrael were lacking in faith and did not trust in Hashem, and so their desire to go to Eretz Yisrael was because they thought that they could conquer the land naturally and easily; that since they were numerous they would vanquish the far less numerous seven nations. Thus, their intention in sending the spies was in order to verify that they are weak. Moshe Rabbeinu, however, knew that the truth was that they were strong, the offspring of Anak, and that it was impossible for Yisrael to conquer them naturally. But if Yisrael would have strong faith in Hashem, then He would help them, and therefore he wanted to send the spies in order that, on the contrary, they would report back that they are very strong, and so Yisrael would realise that it is impossible to conquer them. I saw further in Binah Le’ittim, Drush 66, that he himself writes that this was the reason for the sending of the spies.
Thus the spies were supposed to return and say to Yisrael that even though it is impossible to conquer them naturally, nevertheless, if we trust in Hashem we will certainly vanquish them. If Moshe did not send the spies and instead Moshe himself had told them this, then their faith would not have been so strong. But by sending the spies they will see with their own eyes the miracle that ten men went amongst a strong people and not one of the group was harmed. From this they would understand that it was from Hashem, and their faith would be strengthened, and in the merit of their faith, indeed they would be saved. But if they don’t have faith, then because of this sin of lacking faith, He will cause them to go to war and they will fall.
So we see that the intention of Moshe in the sending of the spies was the opposite of Yisrael’s intention. Yisrael intended that they should say that the inhabitants are weak, and Moshe intended the opposite, that they should say that they are strong, and that it is impossible to overcome them naturally, but if we trust in Hashem, then He will fight for us. Therefore, it was necessary that the spies be tzaddikim.
But actually it was also Hashem’s intention to send spies. Because on the one hand He already knew that in their hearts they were lacking in faith, but with sins Hashem does not consider a thought like a deed, and so He could not punish them in the wilderness for this. But on the other hand, if they would go with this intention to Eretz Yisrael, then their thoughts will cause, at the very least, the holding back of good from them, and Hashem will not help them, and then they and their children will fall completely - their children, who never saw the great hand of Hashem, will all the more so be lacking in faith, and so will not merit to conquer the land.
Therefore, Moshe commanded the sending of the spies, and then there would be a decisive outcome either way. Because when the spies return and say that they are a strong people, and even so they all decide to go, then it will be clear that their faith is strong, and so Hashem will save them. And if they state a refusal to go, then they will die in a plague, and their children, who will see their punishment, will strengthen their faith in their hearts, and thus they will succeed in war.
And thus it had always been Hashem’s intention to send the spies for the benefit of Klal Yisrael. If so, why did He not command Moshe explicitly to do so? The answer lies in the Midrash, which says that Moshe died in the wilderness in order that the generation of the wilderness should have a portion in the world to come. The explanation of this Midrash is that Hashem, who knows the future, knew that the spies would sin, and He wanted to justify Yisrael in their judgement, so that they would not be cast away completely. Therefore, Hashem did not command the sending of the spies, but rather left it to Moshe to choose whether to send spies or not. And since he sent them, and as a consequence caused the death of that generation, then even though the proximate cause of their death was the spies, Moshe was the cause of the spies, because Hashem had left it to his decision, and therefore he was the main cause of their death. Therefore, he died in the wilderness in order that they would at least have a portion in the world to come.
But if He had commanded it, then Moshe would not have been the primary cause, and it follows that there would be no place to decree upon him death in the wilderness in order that they would have a portion in the world to come, because what sin did Moshe do that he should die for their sake? Therefore He said “I am not commanding you, but if you wish you may send”, and He knew that the idea would appeal to Moshe, and thus the sending of the spies would be in his name, and he would be the cause, and have to die in the wilderness in order that that generation would have a portion in the world to come.
From where did Moshe learn that seeing is believing?
(13,2) “Send for yourself men who will scout the Land of Canaan…”
Another way of explaining Rashi - who wrote: “send for yourself”, according to your mind. I am not commanding you, but if you wish you may send - is according to the Midrash in parshas Ki Sisoh on the posuk (Shemos 32:19) “And he saw the calf and the dancing…and he cast the tablets from his hands” The Midrash asked: Why only now when he saw with his own eyes did he cast the tablets away - surely Hashem had already told him that Yisrael had made the calf, so why did he not cast away the tablets immediately? The Midrash answered that Moshe wanted to show that one should not believe except what his eyes see.
If so, we can explain that Yisrael wanted to send spies to see how the land is, even though Hashem had already told them that it is a good land - indeed, the Midrash writes that Hashem complained about their not believing Him. And why did Yisrael do this, and not believe Hashem’s word? Because they had learned this from Moshe Rabbeinu, who did not break the tablets until he had seen with his own eyes, even though Hashem had already told him that Yisrael had sinned and made for themselves the calf, and so they did the same, that even though Hashem had promised that the land was good, nevertheless, they wanted to send spies, and they said that their intention was for the sake of Heaven, to show to all generations not to believe except what the eyes see. But had it not been for Moshe’s actions, they would not have had any opening to want to send spies, and to say that they did not believe Hashem’s word.
This is what Hashem said to Moshe: Send for yourself, according to your mind. That is, to My mind there is not the slightest mitzvah to send spies, because Yisrael should rely on My word that the land is good. But according to your opinion, that you say that one should only believe what one sees, if you want, send spies with this intention.
This is what it says in parshas Devarim, “and the matter was good in my eyes”, and Chazal expounded: In my eyes, but not in Hashem’s eyes. That is, the reason why Moshe approved the sending of the spies was because he had done similarly at the time of the sin of the calf.
Now we understand what is written in the Midrash on parshas Chukas, that all forty years in the wilderness Moshe Rabbeinu was afraid that Hashem would be particular with him for the sin of the spies. But why should Moshe be afraid of the sin of the spies? But according to that which I have explained, Moshe certainly had a part in this sin, because from him Yisrael learned to request the spies.
This is what is written in parshas Ve’eschanan, “You started to show Your servant Your greatness…I will pass over and see the land” - what connection is there between the two statements? But Moshe realised that he had in his hand two sins. One was that he had not broken the tablets until he had seen with his own eyes, and the second, bigger sin that came from this, that it gave Yisrael a pretext to send the spies. Therefore, Moshe argued that he was not culpable in this - “You started to show Your greatness” - Hashem started this by showing him His greatness, and He did not want that Moshe should believe in His greatness with faith. If so, Hashem had set the precedent not to believe until one sees with his own eyes, and so he is not to blame for not breaking the tablets until he saw with his own eyes.
Therefore Moshe said, “You started to show to Your servant Your greatness”, and since You set the precedent for this, I did not sin by doing the same, and therefore I will pass over and see (and not die in the wilderness as a punishment for sending the spies).
How do we see in the posuk that Moshe knew from the beginning that the spies were wicked?
(13,2) “Send out for yourself men who will scout the Land of Canaan…each one a prince among them.”
We can explain the end of the posuk - “each one a prince among them” - that the meaning is according to the statement of Chazal, ‘there is no rulership on the day of death’, and for this reason it does not mentioned the title of King by Dovid Hamelech on the day of his death.
Now, the Torah makes a comparison between the spies return from scouting the land to their going out to the land - just as their returning was in sin, so too there going was in sin. If so, immediately when they left they were liable to the death penalty, and so they were already considered dead. This is especially so according to what I wrote earlier in parshas Acharei Mos in the name of the responsa of the Maharil, that from the time that it is decreed above upon a person that he should die, even though he continues to live down below, he is called dead, see there. If so, the spies were called dead from the time of their leaving, and so were not mentioned with the title of princes, since there is no rulership on the day of death, and instead they are referred to as men.
But this is only with regard to Moshe, who knew that they were wicked, and thus considered like simple men, and not princes. But Yisrael, who did not know that they were wicked, held them to be princes. Therefore, the posuk says, “Send for yourself men” - to you they are considered like simple men, but by Yisrael “each one was a prince among them” - amongst them they were still considered to be princes.
With this the words of the Midrash on this parsha are very understandable, which concludes: But the spies that Moshe sent were wicked. How do we know that? From what it says, “Send for yourself men”. How does the Midrash see from this posuk that they were wicked? But according to the above, we see that since they were called men, and not princes, it is evident that they were already wicked, and death had been decreed upon them, and since there is no rulership on the day of death they were called men. Thus the words of the Midrash are clear.