We tend to lump together all ten of the spies who spoke against the land as one cohesive group – an “evil congregation” which acted as one in rejecting the land of Israel. But this was not the case. There were actually several internal differences in the motives amongst the ten spies, who before their sin were considered by the sages as the most righteous of men.
The Different Factions
The most active group which set the pace and was most extreme in their stance of rejecting the land was ready to do anything to prevent entry into the land. Their agenda was to remain in the wilderness and eventually return to Egypt to the watermelons and garlic, or to the “land of milk and honey” (as Egypt was later coined by their pious disciples, Datan and Aviram in parshat Korah).
In contrast, there were more moderate factions for whom it was not so easy to suddenly reject what Jews had dreamed of for so long. But what? They too held doubts about making Aliyah. There was the fear of losing their prestigious positions, as well as the more simple fear of getting pummeled by the giants of the land. These spies were able to ease their consciences by “facing the reality”. After all, it’s impossible to defeat giants, and one is forbidden to endanger the entire Jewish People. Who knows? Maybe they came up with a “psak halacha” that “pekuach nefesh” takes precedence over the land of Israel. And the spies who were left probably “had no other choice” other than to go with the tide. They hadn’t the courage to go against the flow, and thus were dragged along, accepting the “party line”…
While there is a huge difference between those who streamrolled the process and those who were simply dragged along or were just being “realistic”, the Torah does not differentiate among the spies when meting out the punishment. All factions were put in the same boat, suffering a harsh death and non-entry into the Promised Land. The major inciters and those who may have LOVED Eretz Yisrael are ALL labeled as “and they despised the good land”. All pleas for lighter punishment due to special circumstances would have to wait for the Heavenly Court.
The True “Gedolim”
To accentuate this point, we have the two “gedolim”, Joshua and Kalev. In contrast to the pragmatists, men of small belief, and outright rejecters of G-d’s will, we see two men who proved that one needn’t buckle under to the pressure. We see two men who proved that precisely it is faith in G-d which is the REAL reality!
Behold, Joshua and Kalev found themselves in a new situation. Suddenly, they were a minority that stubbornly clung to an idea which was deemed as “unrealistic”. Surely it was difficult for them not to succumb to the pressure of following the party line. But the harder test was when they returned to the Jewish camp – to the people who had been incited and brainwashed, and had to decide whether they would hop on the bandwagon and repeat the party line, or whether they would fight. Here, too, they stood their ground, clinging to the simple truth which overnight had somehow turned into something insane and unrealistic: “The land which we passed through is an exceedingly good land!”
Being a “Hebrew” – the Most Difficult Test of All
Joshua and Kalev stood the test. True, they endangered themselves: “But all the congregation said to stone them with stones”. But this is what is required of a Jewish leader – not to make “cheshbonot” with God’s commandment and not to accept the false reality. To be willing to be hated and to suffer helpless isolation versus overflowing falsehood. For this is the root of the word “Hebrew” – “Ivry”, which means other side, where Abraham stood on one side, and the entire world stood on the other side.
When the dust finally clears, the masses who were mired in the temporary falsehood will try to understand where they went wrong. At that same moment, the men of truth who stubbornly clung to the simple truth will merit G-d’s portion and receive the yoke of leadership.