A Rewarding Punishment
By Dovi Scheiner

Exiting Egypt and wandering the desert, the ultimate destination of the Jewish people was the Land of Israel. Preparing for entrance to the land, Moshe Rabbeinu dispatched twelve men, one man for each tribe, to spy out the land.

But the spies had a hidden agenda. Having grown to enjoy their miraculous desert life, replete with manna from heaven and water from the Well of Miriam, they held no desire to lead the people onward. "So they brought forth to the Children of Israel an evil report on the land that they had spied out, saying, ‘The land through which we have passed, to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants!’"

The slanderous account by the spies greatly angered Hashem, Who responded by barring the generation from entry to the Land of Israel, forcing them to live out their lives in the desert!

But wait, isn’t that what the spies wanted in the first place?! To remain in the desert, the people’s culinary and security needs provided for, would seem to amount to no punishment at all!

The spies’ wish to remain in the desert was actually motivated by righteousness. While in the desert, the Jewish people were free to serve G-d and study His Torah without distractions, their every material need provided for. Entrance to the Land of Israel would have limited the time available to them to serve G-d in this manner. The people thrust into the role of pioneering would have had to toil in menial labor: "for six years you shall sow your field and for six years you shall prune your vineyard."

The only problem with their refusal to enter the Land of Israel was their desire to serve G-d as they wished, and not as G-d now wished to be served.

But here the problem was at the same time the solution. For only by continuing to serve G-d in the way they knew best could the people grow to appreciate the reality of a better way. G-d punished the Jewish people by granting them exactly what they had hoped for, confident that in this way He would soon be getting exactly what He wanted!

(Adapted from Likkutei Sichos vol. 33, Shlach.)

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