The Spies – Where Did They Tour?


All or Part?

Bemidbar 13 records Hashem's command to Moshe to send the spies, Moshe's charge to the spies, and the spies' execution of their mission. At first glance, the verses in each of these three units appear to explicitly indicate that the spies scouted out the entire land of Israel:


(ב) שְׁלַח לְךָ אֲנָשִׁים וְיָתֻרוּ אֶת אֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי נֹתֵן לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל...
(יז) וַיִּשְׁלַח אֹתָם מֹשֶׁה לָתוּר אֶת אֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן...
(כא) וַיַּעֲלוּ וַיָּתֻרוּ אֶת הָאָרֶץ מִמִּדְבַּר צִן עַד רְחֹב לְבֹא חֲמָת.

(2) Send for you men, and they will spy the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Children of Israel...
(17) And Moshe sent them to spy the land of Canaan... (21) And they went up and spied the land from the Wilderness of Zin until Rechov at the entrance of Chamat.

However, a closer examination of the continuation of verse 17, "עֲלוּ זֶה בַּנֶּגֶב וַעֲלִיתֶם אֶת הָהָר", reveals that Moshe specified only that the spies should visit the southern part of Israel, but made no mention of any other part of the land. Similarly, while verse 21 above speaks of the land in general, the continuation in Bemidbar 13:22-24 provides the details of the spies' reconnaissance only in the southern region of Chevron and Nachal Eskhol, and nowhere else. The same is true also regarding the portrayals of the spies' mission in Bemidbar 32 and Devarim 1. All of which leads the reader to wonder: Did the spies indeed conduct a full tour of Israel, or was the scope of their travels much more circumscribed?

Additional Questions

  • Forty days – The spies return from their trek after forty days. Was this really sufficient time to travel from the Wilderness of Zin all the way to Israel's northern border, scout the country's cities, evaluate the land and fortifications, and return to Moshe? This question is largely dependent on the location of "רְחֹב לְבֹא חֲמָת".‎1
  • "וַיַּעֲלוּ בַנֶּגֶב וַיָּבֹא עַד חֶבְרוֹן" – The singular form of "וַיָּבֹא" is perplexing. Did only one of the spies visit Chevron or did they all tour the site together?
  • Doubling of coming and going – Both verses 13:21 and 22 describe the spies' embarking on their mission, "וַיַּעֲלוּ וַיָּתֻרוּ אֶת הָאָרֶץ" and "וַיַּעֲלוּ בַנֶּגֶב". What is the need for both? Similarly, when the spies return, we read both "וַיָּשֻׁבוּ מִתּוּר הָאָרֶץ" (v.25) and "וַיֵּלְכוּ וַיָּבֹאוּ אֶל מֹשֶׁה" (v.26)? Why did one verse not suffice?
  • Undetected? – How could a group of twelve spies have scouted an entire country for a period of over a month without getting caught?2 Would not such a large foreign group snooping around, checking fortifications and water sources, be somewhat conspicuous?


The scope of the spies' mission has consequences not only for resolving the textual and realia questions raised above, but also for how one evaluates the spies' conduct and sin. Was their slander at all justified or understandable? How much of their report was influenced by the choice and scope of the route itself?