This week’s parasha starts with the mission of the “spies”:
And we’ve talked before about the apparent contradiction with the story as Moshe tells it in ספר דברים:
Rav Medan says that the problem was that ה׳'s mission was different from what the people wanted. ה׳ said to send representatives of each tribe to literally tour the land, to divide it among the tribes.
There was no need for a military mission; they could just walk in and ה׳ would protect them. The people, however, wanted a military mission, ויחפרו לנו את הארץ. And Moshe’s mistake was to conflate the two missions, and send politicians as amateur spies.
But ה׳ agreed to Moshe’s plan. Why? Rav Kamenetsky takes note of the wording here: וישלח אתם משה ממדבר פארן על פי ה׳.
Just as in any war, they needed to consult with ה׳, by means of the אורים ותומים:
This is how the Rambam describes it:
And this understanding, that על פי ה׳ means “as asked of the אורים ותומים”, explains some of the mysteries of this parasha. The names of the spies are listed in apparently random order.
But Yehoshua is in the middle of the pack. Were all the others at a higher level than he was? Rav Kaminetsky connects it to the story in דברים:
The image is of everyone pushing and shoving, בְּעִרְבּוּבְיָא; whoever got to the front of the line asked their question, and the order of names is random because the whole process was chaotic and random.
Another question is the name of Yehoshua:
הושע בן נון has been called יהושע for a long time now:
The answer is that Yehoshua has status for two reasons. one is his service to Moshe. The other is his yichus:
Joshua has two roles, one as the grandson of the נשיא of his tribe, and one as the protégé of Moshe. As Rashbam says, “יהושע” is the name he was given as the protégé of Moshe, and the one he used in his professional career. The אורים ותומים named him as representative of his tribe, as “הושע”. Moshe, by announcing that he is really יהושע, is asking him to be Moshe’s representative as well. Moshe realizes that עצת מרגלים, the secondary mission of spying, is probably a mistake and so reminds him that he is יהושע, משרת משה. Moshe needs him to be his (Moshe’s) representative, to keep the primary mission together and keep the others focused.
Why does this matter, that the spies were sent על פי ה׳, and that means על פי האורים ותומים?
The אורים ותומים are intentionally opaque, oracular. It’s a lower level of רוח הקודש than נבואה, and much lower than Moshe’s נבואה.
The phrase that the אמת ליעקב associates with the אורים ותומים came up in last week’s parasha:
על פי ה׳ is how ה׳ guides בני ישראל as a whole. In the wilderness, the instructions were explicit. As they enter ארץ ישראל, they will have to make their own decisions. Establishing a ממלכה means that the people have the responsibility to create ממלכת כהנים וגוי קדוש. ה׳ is now willing to let them make their own mistakes and deal with the consequences. This, fundamentally, was the sin of the spies:
In Israel, signs from G-d would be subtle, ambiguous. The story of our parasha was the first test of the new system.