The meraglim return from their exploration of the land of Israel with rather slanderous things to say about it. The Jewish people rally behind them and fear that they will not actually be successful in capturing the land of Israel, despite God’s promises to the contrary. For this they are punished most severely, with forty years of wandering in the desert, which was also to be the place of their graves.
There is a little known event that occurs at the very end of this story of the meraglim. After being told that they were no longer to enter the land of Israel, and that their generation would instead die out in the desert, the Jewish people changed their attitude towards going to the land of Israel:
וַיַּשְׁכִּ֣מוּ בַבֹּ֔קֶר וַיַּֽעֲל֥וּ אֶל־רֹאשׁ־הָהָ֖ר לֵאמֹ֑ר הִנֶּ֗נּוּ וְעָלִ֛ינוּ אֶל־הַמָּק֛וֹם אֲשֶׁר־אָמַ֥ר יְהוָ֖ה כִּ֥י חָטָֽאנוּ׃
Early next morning they set out toward the crest of the hill country, saying, “We are prepared to go up to the place that the LORD has spoken of, for we were wrong.”
One would certainly think that the ultimate repentance and rectification for the sin of the meraglim and the Jewish people would be a new desire to enter the land of Israel. The lesson we are to take from the story of the meraglim is surely a better attitude towards, connection to, and appreciation of the land of Israel. And of course, that is all true, but it is not the ultimate lesson of the story of the meraglim. Indeed, this is how Moshe responds to the Jewish people after they recognized the error of their ways in not wanting to go to Israel in the first place:
וַיֹּ֣אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֔ה לָ֥מָּה זֶּ֛ה אַתֶּ֥ם עֹבְרִ֖ים אֶת־פִּ֣י יְהוָ֑ה וְהִ֖וא לֹ֥א תִצְלָֽח׃
But Moses said, “Why do you transgress the LORD’s command? This will not succeed.
The ultimate lesson of the story of the meraglim is actually that we must pay extremely close attention to what it is that God wants from us at any given moment. A newfound desire on the part of the Jewish people to enter the land of Israel when God no longer wanted them to do so is just as bad as their lack of desire to enter the land when God did want them to. God’s plan, of course, must have primacy over our own human plans. The question that the story of the meraglim begs us to ask of ourselves is not only that of what exactly we are doing, or how much of it, but whether the things we are doing are actually always in tune with the Divine will.
When one strips away the specific details of the story of the meraglim, this is the lesson that we are left with: God telling the Jewish people to go to the land of Israel, and the error of the Jewish people thinking that they had a better idea. Indeed, the Jewish nation was so misguided in this area that when God told them that they were no longer to enter the land of Israel, the nation thought to remedy the situation by proclaiming that it was their will to now go! At which point, of course, God replied that, in fact, they were not going to go as it was no longer the right time, and no longer His will.
Of course, a deeper connection to our homeland of Israel is certainly a worthwhile thing to extrapolate from the story of the meraglim. Perhaps more poignant is the recognition that we must constantly be sure that what we are doing is congruent with God’s will. One must ask himself, in any given situation, “What does God want from me?” instead of living life according to random or self-developed ideals and morales.