The Story of the Spies in Bemidbar and Devarim


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The story of the spies is recounted in both Bemidbar 13-14 and Devarim 1. Though there are many parallels and the overall story is the same, Moshe's retelling of the event differs significantly from the original, with omissions, additions, recasting of details, and changes in emphasis. For a full comparison of the two accounts, open the comparison table and expand to full screen. For a summary of the differences, see the chart below.


The differences between the accounts leave one with a number of questions:

  • Who initiated the mission? Did Hashem initiate the mission (Bemidbar) or did the people (Devarim)?
  • Location – Where did the princes scout, throughout the land (Bemidbar) or just in the southern region (Devarim)? For elaboration, see The Spies – Where Did They Tour.
  • Mission's goal – Was the mission meant to determine the route of the conquest, as emerges from Devarim, or to check out the land as a whole?
  • The report – Why in Devarim does the text omit the negative aspects of the spies' report?
  • Leaders – How did the various leaders (Moshe, Aharon, Calev, and Yehoshua) react to the spies, and why is the role of Yehoshua and Calev minimized in Moshe's retelling?
  • Punished parties – If both the nation and spies are punished in Bemidbar, why in Devarim does Moshe instead emphasize his and the people's punishment?

Summary Chart

היוזם ה', משה שולח על פי ה' העם, משה שולח על פי העם
מי נשלח? רשימת האנשים – "רָאשֵׁי בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל" אין שמות, לא נזכר שהם ראשים
מטרת השליחות "וְיָתֻרוּ" – "אֶת הָאָרֶץ מַה הִוא" "וְיַחְפְּרוּ" – "אֶת הַדֶּרֶךְ אֲשֶׁר נַעֲלֶה בָּהּ"
תחומי הריגול "מִמִּדְבַּר צִן עַד רְחֹב לְבֹא חֲמָת" הנגב וההר
תוכן הדיווח חיובי ושלילי רק חיובי
מי אשם? גם המרגלים וגם העם חוטאים רק העם חוטאים, לא מודגש דיווח המרגלים
מי מנסה לעמוד בפרץ? כלב, כלב ויהושע, משה ואהרן? משה (אך אינו מתפלל)
איך מנסים לשכנע? "טוֹבָה הָאָרֶץ", "וַה' אִתָּנוּ" מעשי ה' במצרים ובמדבר
תגובת ה' ג' שלבים שונים רק המסקנה (שלב ג')
תפילת משה נזכר חסר
מי נענש? המרגלים והעם העם ומשה
Initiator Hashem, Moshe sends on Hashem's orders The nation, Moshe sends on the nation's orders
Who is sent? A list of names, heads of the tribes No names, no mention of heads
Mission's purpose Scouting - appraisal of the land Spying - determining the route of conquest
Scouted region "מִמִּדְבַּר צִן עַד רְחֹב לְבֹא חֲמָת" הנגב וההר
The report Both positive and negative Only positive
Guilty party Both the spies and the nation sin Only the nation sins, the spies' report is deemphasized
Who attempts to calm the people? Calev, Calev and Yehoshua, Moshe and Aharon? Moshe (but he doesn't pray)
Arguments to persuade the nation "טוֹבָה הָאָרֶץ", "וַה' אִתָּנוּ" מעשי ה' במצרים ובמדבר
God's reaction Three separate stages Only the conclusion (stage 3)
Moshe's prayer Mentioned Missing
Who is punished? The spies and the nation The nation and Moshe
To explore different ways of understanding the relationship between the Bemidbar and Devarim accounts, please proceed to Approaches.