In this week’s parasha, Shlach, we read about the infamous incident of the Spies and the resulting decree that Israel would have to wander in the Wilderness for forty years:
In this desert, your corpses shall fall; your entire number, all those from the age of twenty and up, who were counted, because you complained against Me. You shall [not] come into the Land concerning which I raised My hand that you would settle in it, except Caleb the son of Yefuneh and Joshua the son of Nun… Your children shall wander in the desert for forty years and bear your defection until the last of your corpses has fallen in the desert. According to the number of days which you toured the Land forty days, a day for each year, you will bear your iniquities for forty years; thus you will come to know My alienation. (Numbers 14:29-34)
The plain reading suggests that of all the adults—those over the age of twenty—only Caleb and Joshua merited to enter the Holy Land. Yet, we see from other verses and sources that a number of additional people merited this as well. Who actually entered the Holy Land after the forty years in the Wilderness?
In the final fortieth year, before the death of Aaron, the first kohen gadol, we read how his son Elazar was ordained to take his place (Numbers 20:25-26). It was Elazar who led the priests into the Holy Land, and continued in this role for some twenty years. He oversaw the settlement and division of the land into its tribal regions. It was after Joshua died that “Elazar son of Aaron also died, and they buried him on the Hill of Pinchas, his son, which was given to him in the hills of Ephraim.” (Joshua 24:33) So, we see that Elazar did not die in the Wilderness, despite being an adult at the time of the Spies.
The same is true for his son, Pinchas, mentioned in the verse above. Pinchas was the one that saved Israel during the incident with the Midianites, and merited God’s “everlasting covenant”. He went on to live for centuries, and also entered the Holy Land. The commentaries on the verse above point out that the tribe of Ephraim gave Pinchas a portion of land within their territory as a gift. Pinchas’ father, Elazar, was buried there. According to tradition, Elazar’s brother, and Aaron’s remaining son, Itamar, was also buried on the Hill of Pinchas.
Today, the Hill of Pinchas (Givat Pinchas, in Samaria, the “West Bank”) has three large ancient tombs, believed to be of Elazar, Itamar, and Pinchas. Alternatively, following the tradition that Pinchas is one and the same as Eliyahu and never died, it is the tomb of Avishua, Pinchas’ son. Avishua would likely have not been born yet during the decree of the Spies, but Itamar was certainly an adult, so he was also spared from the decree of the Spies. It isn’t clear how old Pinchas was at that time. However, based on Exodus 6:25, where he alone is mentioned of Aaron’s grandsons among the “heads” of the Levites in Egypt, he was most likely already an adult.
With that said, some hold that really the entire tribe of Levi was spared the decree of the Spies. This is mainly because there was no Levite among the Spies to begin with. Rashi, on Numbers 14:29, notes that the Torah says God pronounced the decree upon all those counted from “twenty and up”, whereas the Levite tribe in the Torah’s censuses was counted from one month and up. Thus, they were excluded. That would further explain why Elazar and Itamar, being Levites, entered the Holy Land.
However, a simple reading of the Torah does not support this notion. If none of the Levites died over the forty-year period (except from natural causes), we would expect there to be a much larger number of Levites in the final census at the end of the Wilderness period. Yet, we see that there were only 23,000 Levites then (Numbers 26:62) compared to 22,000 at the start of the forty-year period (Numbers 3:39). That’s a minimal increase, and roughly the same as the relative increase for the tribe of Judah, which went up from 74,600 to 76,500 men. The census data in the Torah strongly suggests that Levites must have been included in the decree as well. Alternatively, the Levites were spared, but still died of natural causes over the forty-year period, at the same rate as the other tribes, which is why their numbers didn’t rise considerably. Whatever the case, there were others, too, not from the tribe of Levi who merited to enter Israel.
The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni II, 367) lists 13 people who never died, of which nine entered Heaven alive:
Thirteen never tasted the taste of death, and they are: Enoch, Eliezer the servant of Abraham, Methuselah, Hiram the king of Tyre, Eved-Melekh the Cushite, Batya the daughter of Pharaoh, and Serach bat Asher, as well as the three sons of Korach, and Eliyahu, and Mashiach, and Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi. Nine entered the Garden of Eden alive: Enoch, Eliyahu, Mashiach, and Eliezer, Eved-Melekh the Cushite, Hiram the king of Tyre, and Ya’avetz the son of Rabbi Yehuda the Prince, and Serach bat Asher, and Batya the daughter of Pharaoh. Some say to replace Hiram with Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi.
From this list, five were present at the Exodus and during the decree of the Spies. The first two are Batya, the daughter of Pharaoh who saved Moses, and Serach, the daughter of Asher and granddaughter of Jacob. The former merited eternal life for saving and raising Moses, the latter for gently breaking the news about Joseph to her grandfather. Serach was also the one who helped Moses identify the bones of Joseph to take back to Israel. (For more on Serach, see ‘The Incredible Story of Serach bat Asher’ in Volume One of Garments of Light.)
On that note, it must be stated that God’s decree did not apply to women at all! The Torah states that God said “they shall surely die in the Wilderness. And not one man survived, except Caleb son of Yefuneh and Joshua son of Nun.” (Numbers 26:65). The Torah says “man” (ish), not “woman”. Rabbeinu Beyahe comments here by citing the Midrash that it was “the men who despised Israel, not the women”. He explains that this is why the very next passage in the Torah is about the inheritance of the daughters of Tzelofchad. Obviously, it means the daughters would survive the Wilderness and enter the Land to receive their inheritance. So, all the women were spared.
From the Midrash of the immortals above, the remaining three present at the Exodus were the sons of Korach, named Asir, Elkanah, and Aviasaf (Exodus 6:24). As explained previously, they repented whole-heartedly from Korach’s rebellion, and praised God with such beautiful song that they were spared death entirely. They were spared from the decree of the Spies, too, and merited to enter Israel. Aside from these, a number of other meritorious men ended up in Israel.
One of the key people who lived through the Exodus and for many years afterwards was Achiyah haShiloni. The prophet Achiyah’s origins are not given in the Tanakh, where he is described as being extremely old and visually impaired during the time of King Yerovam (I Kings 14:4). The Talmud (Bava Batra 121b) holds that this Achiyah was the same one as Achiyah the Levite (I Chronicles 26:20) appointed by King David many decades earlier. The Talmud explains that Achiyah survived the decree of the Spies since he was a Levite, according to the opinion that all Levites were spared. Interestingly, the Talmud states that seven people spanned the entire history of civilization: “Methuselah saw Adam; Shem saw Methuselah; Jacob saw Shem; Amram saw Jacob; Achiyah the Shilonite saw Amram; Eliyahu saw Achiyah the Shilonite; and is still alive.”
In his introduction to the Mishneh Torah, the Rambam provides a list of the entire chain of Torah tradition, starting from Moses and passing down generation by generation to the end of the Talmudic period. One of the key links in that chain is Achiyah, who was a disciple of Moses and lived through the centuries all the way up through the time of King David, and was a teacher of Eliyahu. How it is that Achiyah merited such long life is not clear.
The same page of Talmud cited above notes how the great warriors Yair and Machir, the sons of Menashe, also merited incredibly long life. They were born in the time of Jacob, lived through the entire period of Egypt and the Exodus, and then participated in the conquest of the Holy Land. It should also be mentioned that the Talmud holds that only those between the ages of 20 and 60 at the time of the decree of the Spies were included in it. None of the seniors perished due to the decree, presumably since they were too old to be soldiers and were not responsible for conquering the land. (Most of those over 60 at the time of the decree likely would have died over the forty-year period due to advanced age.) The ones that perished were only those who were supposed to fight for the land and did not, lacking faith in God.
Lastly, we have Eldad and Meidad, the two prophets from last week’s parasha. The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 15:19) states that they also merited to enter the land. Eldad is the same person as Elidad ben Chislon, leader of the tribe of Benjamin (Numbers 34:21), and Meidad is the same person as Kemuel ben Shiftan, leader of the tribe of Ephraim (Numbers 34:24). They were called “Eldad” and “Meidad” for a mystical reason. The Arizal (Sha’ar haPesukim on Beha’alotcha) explains that all righteous people correspond to a part of the original Adam’s body and soul. Eldad and Meidad correspond to Adam’s chest, particularly the pectorals or breasts (dad means “breast”). El is associated with Chessed, and therefore the right breast; mei has a value of fifty, alluding to the Fifty Gates of Understanding on the left column of the Sefirot, relating to Gevurah, and thus corresponding to the left breast.
The Final Count
One of the reasons why we celebrate the holiday of Tu b’Av is that this is when the Wilderness generation stopped dying (see Ta’anit 30b, Bava Batra 121a). God decreed death upon that generation on the 9th of Av and, according to tradition, each year 15,000 people would die on the 9th of Av (over forty years, that would total 600,000 people). On the final 9th of Av, in the fortieth year, the remaining 15,000 awaited their impending death. It did not come. They waited several more days until the 15th of Av, at which point they realized God had repealed the decree and they would survive. On that same day, God resumed speaking to Moses after a long period of silence.
So, we now have a complete list of all those who survived the decree and merited to enter the Holy Land: all the women, the tribe of Levi (according to that opinion), the last of the 15,000 men, all those under 20 and over 60, and the following people: Joshua and Caleb, Elazar and Itamar, Pinchas, Yair and Menashe, Eldad and Meidad, the sons of Korach, and Achiyah. In addition to these surviving men, two surviving women are specifically mentioned for their unique merit: Serach and Batya.
For those who like to see the mystical unity in all things, these individuals can be neatly paralleled to the Ten Sefirot: Caleb and Joshua are respectively Chessed and Gevurah—the former being a symbol of compassion and kindness, going first to pay a visit to his ancestors laying in Hebron; the latter being a symbol of strength and battle. Eldad and Meidad, corresponding to the chest, are in Tiferet, the central trunk of the body representing truth (Emet), as Eldad and Meidad preached in their prophetic trance. The warrior sons of Menashe, Yair and Machir, were instrumental to the victorious conquest of Israel, so they are Netzach. Elazar and Itamar were, like their father Aaron, rooted in Hod. Pinchas, of course, is Yesod. Serach, the praiseworthy daughter, is Malkhut. In the spheres above, the sons of Korach are Keter (Ratzon), having repented so thoroughly that they seemingly altered God’s Will. Achiyah, the longest link in the Torah chain, is undoubtedly Chokhmah. And finally, the great step-mother Batya is Binah (Ima).