"We cannot go up against this people; they are stronger than memenu/we." (Num. 13:31)

"Change the vowel dot on the final vov and read it "memenu"/stronger than He/G‑d." (Rashi on verse)

The generation of the Exodus attained the highest level of Divine consciousness of any generation in history. G‑d sustained them with the heavenly manna, which taught them daily the lesson of His constant involvement in even the mundane facets of life. This made them the ideal recipients for the Torah. They had witnessed G‑d's absolute control over the "immutable" laws of nature and his ability to suspend them for his people. And finally, they had witnessed the Divine revelation of the Gving of Torah at Mount Sinai. How, then, could such people, exposed daily to G‑d's miracles, suddenly turn into frightened skeptics? And how could their spiritual elite fall so low as to question G‑d's omnipotence?

They wished to experience life and pursue G‑dliness unencumbered by the distractions of materiality.

The answer is that it was specifically their heightened spiritual orientation that led them astray. They wished to experience life and pursue G‑dliness unencumbered by the distractions of materiality. In the desert, they were protected by the clouds of glory, sustained by the Manna and the well of Miriam, and all their physical needs were fully attended to. All of their time was spent in spiritual pursuits. They were repulsed by the notion of entering the real world, where bread must be wrested from the earth and life cannot be a heavenly paradise.

Thus, the scouts described the land as one that "consumes its inhabitants," fearing that once they entered the land they would fall prey to its earthliness and no longer be spiritual beings.

The purpose of life is to live within mundane reality and reveal the G‑dliness concealed within it. The spies were not willing to carry out the mandate given at Sinai—to bring heaven to earth, and earth to heaven.

By failing in their mission, the spies ironically succeeded in a much more profound way. Their failure allowed the very value they disregarded—G‑d's purpose of making the world into His home—to be accomplished more fully than their success ever could have.

The ultimate way of making the world into G‑d's home is by revealing our own Divine natures and thereby making G‑d's perspective, goals, and desires our own. When we do this, we follow G‑d's will not only because we are told to, but also because our own minds and hearts impel us to.

The problem is that remaking ourselves over this way is a process of self-refinement, which is long, hard work. It is much simpler and quicker to submit carte blanche to G‑d's will than to gradually refine our intellect and emotions by training them constantly to see through the world's materiality. But this is exactly what the spies' sin enabled us to do in a straightforward manner.

First of all, the spies succeeded in exciting the Jewish people about entering the Land of Israel. Thanks to them, the people heard from eyewitnesses that the land flowed with milk and honey, and they did not have to take G‑d's promises on mere faith. Once they were shaken from their momentary doubt, they were swept up with the desire to enter the land. Their children carried this knowledge of the land's virtues when they joyously entered it with Joshua. The spies that Joshua sent were only for strategic purposes, since the people did not need another report of the land's beauty and beneficial properties.
The spies' mission thus had the immediate effect of beginning the conquest of the land...
Secondly, the very fact that the spies—as Jewish leaders—walked through the land prepared it spiritually for the eventual entrance of the people as a whole. The spies' mission thus had the immediate effect of beginning the conquest of the land and paving the way for the actual conquest.

Thirdly, had the spies and their generation not sinned, the people would have indeed entered the land headed by Moses and would have been led to a miraculous victory by G‑d's cloud of glory and pillar of fire. But then, the victory and the conquest would have been G‑d's alone, rather than the people's, aided by His constant support. Because of the spies' sin, the land now had to be won by military prowess, but the ensuing victory would be the result of the people's efforts. And because they would fight for it, they would value it more than they would have had they received it only as G‑d's gift.

And finally, the spies' error taught us the invaluable lesson that we can all indeed fulfill G‑d's mission, that we should never make the mistake of thinking that we do not measure up to His calling.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, vol. 23, p. 92 ff.; Sefer HaSichot 5751, vol. 2, p. 617 ff.; Likutei Sichot, vol. 13, pp. 39-40. ff
© 2001 Chabad of California/www.LAchumash.org