How is it possible that a generation which witnessed countless open miracles from God—the exodus from Egypt, the splitting of the Reed Sea, manna in the desert, to name but a few—were deceived by the spies that are unable to go up against the people, for they are stronger than us” (v. 31)? How did their faith crumble so quickly?
Chasidic thought explains that the spies suffered from binary logic. They believed in God, and in the power of Divine intervention, with perfect faith. But they perceived that life is guided either by the laws of nature, or, if God so desires, by Divine intervention. They could not conceive of the scenario where God’s supernatural providence extends through the veil of nature.
From the time when Moshe first announced the exodus from Egypt until this point, when the Jewish people were poised to enter the Land of Israel, God had guided them with a series of open miracles. But, the spies argued, when the Jewish people would settle in the Land, these miracles were going to cease. The manna would no longer fall, and Miriam’s well would no longer produce water—as was indeed the case—meaning that the Jewish people would be forced to seek their sustenance through natural means. Then, the spies argued, they would be helpless. For God’s miracles had only proven that He could provide assistance by breaking nature; they had no evidence that God’s providence would extend within nature.
Thus, they concluded, it is “a land that consumes its inhabitants” (v.32), as if to say: “When we will be preoccupied with earning a living through natural means, our ability to live a life of Divine worship will be totally consumed!” To prove their point, they cited the case of the nefilim-giants (v. 33), who were angels while in the spiritually conducive environment of the heavens, but became immediately corrupted as soon as they began to live a physical life on earth (see Yalkut Shimoni cited in Classic Questions).
Yehoshua and Calev responded: “If God desires us, He will bring us to this Land” (14:8). God is not bound by any limitation whatsoever. Since He desires us to make a home for Him in this physical world through the observance of Torah and mitzvos, His providence will extend to us within the confines of nature. God will help us every single day, not with earth-shattering miracles, but with “small miracles,” that do not overtly break the natural order.
(Based on Likutei Sichos vol. 4, p. 1041ff.; vol. 28, pp. 91-2)