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Answers to Dovbear’s Kashya

June 17, 2014

Dovbear has a kashya:

In Numbers 14, the spies come back from their mission and 10 of them report that Canaan is unconquerable. Two other spies disagree and argue that, with God, anything is possible. Instead of settling the matter, Moshe responds to the claims and counter claims by falling on his face and saying nothing. The thesis of this post is that Moshe’s reaction was wrong, and contrary to well-established principles of Judaism. Instead, of suggesting with his body language that the two dissenting spies were correct, he should have ruled plainly and forcefully in favor of the ten…. By what right did Moshe disagree with them, in favor of the minority? Lo bashamayim he. We pay no attention to a divine voice. God Himself has no power to overrule the majority.

1. I believe the answer to the question is that because Moses was acting on the authority of a prophet declaring a horaatth sha’ah. According to the Sages, when the prophet invokes that rule, everyone has to listen to him. 

2. Unlike other possible halachic disagreements, the matter of entering the land, conquering it, driving out the idolaters, and settling the land is not up for suspension. Blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashana can be suspended by the Sages when the situation calls for it, but because the settlement of the land is the basis for the entire Torah (“equivalent to all the commandments”) it can never be suspended.

This is similar to the argument Rabbi Soloveichik’s students used to counter his claim that in order to avoid mortal danger, it would be permissible to surrender Israeli territory: The very commandment to make war to maintain control of the land involves putting Jewish lives in danger, and therefore may not be suspended in cases of danger.

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