Shelach – Escape from the Real World
It took a long time to complete the conquest of the Promised Land. According to the narrative of the book of Joshua it was seven years of military campaigning followed by another seven years of settlement distribution. Even then much of the land remained in the hands of indigenous tribes. The small nation of Israel had ongoing wars, mostly defensive, in and around its borders for centuries, until King David consolidated control of the land and brought the expanded borders under his unified reign. Jerusalem itself was not conquered by Israel for over three hundred years, eventually taken by King David who then established Jerusalem as the capital of his kingdom.
An undertaking such as moving into a new territory is daunting, and the nation clearly had some apprehension about it. They had grown comfortable in their wilderness existence, in a temporary arrangement similar to a refugee camp. The welfare system was unmatched, with room service providing daily meals (left outside the door so as not to disturb), and a continuous flow of water from a mysterious well that followed the camp throughout their travels. The temperature was kept comfortably mild, with clouds blocking the heat of the sun as well as the night chill. Medical care was all but unnecessary, as sickness generally was kept outside the camp environment (aside from some localized plagues that were brought under control quickly by means of burning incense). One could excuse the nation for not wishing to leave this environment.
When push came to shove this apprehension was exposed, dominating the people’s response to the report of the spies, most of whom described the land as unconquerable by Israel. As a result of their despair the nation was sentenced to remain in the temporary wilderness camp for 40 years, including time already served. But something doesn’t add up. If my illustration above is correct the nation was not in fact punished; they were given precisely what they wished for – an extended stay in Wilderness Camp, with all amenities and services continuing.