When the spies got back from Canaan and delivered their bleak report, the people mourned and cried. They cried that they’d ever left Egypt; that the arduous journey was a waste if they were just going to die in the desert; and that they want a new leader who would take them back to Egypt.
The aftermath of the story resulted in an entire lost generation, aimlessly wandering the desert for 40 years until they all died, and only their children would merit the conquest and establishment of the Land of Israel.
It is normal to react negatively to bad news. Yet what triggered the punishment is the people’s reaction and not the conspiracy itself – which was the actual catalyst for where things went wrong in this story!
What was wrong about their reasonably typical reaction to receiving bad news that meant they could not build the Land of Israel?
It might be that their response belied a fundamental attitude defect that was a prerequisite.
There are many nations and many states. The Jewish People in the Land of Israel is not just one more. It is supposed to be fundamentally and qualitatively different. It is the culmination of a centuries-old hope and vision, with careful stops along the way, in Canaan, Egypt, and Sinai, which pave the way to build something never seen or done before.
In the face of adversity, so many miles and months from Egypt, these people show they never really left at all. They want to right back!
Perhaps it’s not something that they did that was so wrong, but that they completely lacked the attitude to achieve their divine goals. Building a new model for what a religious society should look like requires pioneers with hope and vision. These people didn’t have it. If that’s what it takes to establish the Jewish People in the Land of Israel, how could they ever hope to succeed?
You will never realize a vision executed half-heartedly. You need to believe to achieve.