Two men, Moses and Aaron, stand on a hill outside Kadesh in the Negev. Moses is bent with the weight of responsibility and knowledge. They look northward toward Canaan.
Moses: I’m telling you, this time He’s really angry.
Aaron: What else is new? About what this time?
Moses: The spies.
Aaron: He sent them.
Moses: Not exactly.
Aaron: Of course He did. As it is written: “Send thou men that they may spy out the land of Canaan.” He said that.
Moses: Well, you see, that’s the quibble right there. As it is written: “ Shelach lecha ” which means “Send for thyself.” He was basically saying, “Whatever. Do what you have to do.”
Aaron: But they had to go. I mean, you can’t expect miracles if you don’t do your due diligence. Spies are pretty fundamental to war.
Moses: He had no problem with that. It was their report.
Aaron: But there were different reports. As there should be, since they all went to different places. The coast is lovely. Did you taste those grapes? The hills are rough and rocky. No surprise there. Then desert. And a sea so salty, you can’t even sink in it. But in the end, they all agreed it was a land of milk and honey.
Moses: Some may have meant milk from wild goats and honey from swarms of bees, an untamed, inhospitable place. Besides, I think they were setting us up. You know, saying, “It’s a very nice place, but you wouldn’t want to live there.”
Aaron: Well, they saw giants. They felt like grasshoppers next to them.
Moses: Caleb and Joshua didn’t feel like grasshoppers. Caleb said, “No problem. We can take these guys easy.”
Aaron: So you have differing opinions. You have to take the differences seriously.
Moses: He doesn’t think they were differences. He thinks they’re just chicken. And then the people, with all their wailing and geschrei -ing, He wasn’t pleased. Then they said they wanted to go back to Egypt. That really did it. He came this close to… I don’t even want to think about it. He was muttering about an entire generation of weenies. He took it very personally.
Aaron: People being scared? What’s personal about that?
Moses: The people not trusting Him. Remember, He brought us here. This is the Promised Land. And their knees are knocking like bongos. It was all I could do to calm Him down.
Aaron: How do you calm Him down?
Moses: You don’t. He calms Himself down. I just reminded Him about something He’d said about himself. As it is written, “…merciful and gracious, long suffering…keeping mercy unto the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” (Ex. 34:6-7)
Aaron: Are you sure that was the best passage? Doesn’t that one conclude with something about “that will by no means clear the guilty…”?
Moses: I also suggested people would say He couldn’t pull off the Promised Land thing He’d promised.
Aaron: He bought that?
Moses: Trust me, given what He was in the mood to do, what He decided is better.
Aaron: Which is?
Moses: Let’s put it this way, we’ve got some walking to do.
Aaron: More walking? How much more walking?
Moses: Forty years.
Aaron: Forty years?? That’s better than what He had in mind?
Moses: And that’s the good news.
Aaron: What’s the bad news?
Moses: If I remember correctly —
Aaron: You always remember correctly! What did he say?
Moses: “Your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness…. And your children shall be wanderers in the wilderness until your carcasses be consumed.”
Aaron: And that’s better than what He was gonna do?
Moses: You bet. At least this way, the kids get into the Promised Land. Oh, and Caleb. Caleb and Joshua. They were ready to go in there and take the Promised Land, so they get to enter with the kids.
Aaron: The two hotheads get in, the rest of us rot?
Moses: To put not too fine a point on it.
Aaron: Do the people know?
Moses: Yeah. So they’re preparing for war.
Aaron: They’re going in now, after He said not to?
Moses: We are a stiff-necked people.
Aaron: Where are they going?
Moses: To Hormah.
Aaron: Doesn’t Hormah mean, literally, utter destruction ?
Moses: Told you He was ticked.
Aaron: Yeah, but I’m afraid this whole episode sets a bad precedent.
Moses: What precedent is that?
Aaron: Listening only to the spies who tell you what you want to hear.
Jeffrey Fiskin is a writer. He lives in Hollywood with his family.