Of Telling Tales and Banning Books

June 17, 2009

Posted by Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky


The discrepancies between the story of the spies as narrated in Shlach, and the way that the story is retold in the first chapter of Dvarim are significant and numerous.  They include (but are not limited to):

(1)   Whose initiative was it to send the spies? (God’s or Israel’s?)

(2)   What was the nature of the spies report when they returned? (Negative or positive?)

(3)   Who chastised the people when they depaired of being able to enter the land? (Caleb or Moshe?)


Every major parshan (exegete) addresses these discrepancies, each in his own way. I often wonder whether Abarbanel’s effort in this arena contributed to his commentary on humash being banned (or its use highly discouraged) in many quarters of the Orthodox world.


Abarbanel’s alleged heterodoxy here begins with the general observation that he makes about the first several chapters of Dvarim. Abarbanel states concerning these chapters, that “Moshe himself spoke them”, and that it was only through a subsequent Divine decision that they were included in the Torah (see pages 11 and 12 in the standard edition of Abarbanel on the Torah). He proceeds from this premise of human (albeit the greatest of human prophets) authorship of these chapters, to explain the genesis of the discrepancies between the telling and the retelling of the spy incident. Read the rest of this entry »