Their children would inherit the land. Not they, the generation that left Egypt. No. After witnessing the greatest miracles of all times, the ten plagues, the exodus, the splitting of the sea, the manna, the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, they were all doomed to die in the desert. Their children, who had not witnessed any of the above, were destined to enter the land of Israel.
Why? What went wrong? It began with the episode of the spies. The Jews asked Moses for permission to send spies into the land of Canaan; to check it out, to see if all the promises that G-d made to them were borne out. The spies came back with a hair-raising report. The people of the land were giants; they were too threatening and mighty to conquer. The land itself was conducive to all sorts of deadly diseases; it’s “a land that eats its inhabitants.”
The people, on hearing this report, believed every word. They tore their clothes and mourned. They cried out, “Our children will be as spoils!”
G-d’s response to them was, “The children that you said would be spoils, I will bring them, and they will know the land.”
Why did the people have so little faith in G-d’s promises? Why did they so readily accept the report of the spies? Chassidic teachings explain that the people were not really afraid for their lives. In fact, the spies brought back a glorious report, better than they could have imagined. The people of the land were strong and mighty - surely this is a healthy land that supports a robust population. However, the people were afraid for something else.
In the desert, they enjoyed a perfectly spiritual existence. They had no daily worries, as Gd provided them with food and drink daily, the clouds of glory protected them and even washed their clothes. They had nothing to fear from enemies. All they had to do was study Torah in peace. And they wanted this, for themselves and for their children.
They did not want to enter a land where they would have to sweat and toil for subsistence, where they’d have to devote time to the fields rather than to study.
This is why they cried out: “Our children will be spoils.” Literally, the children would be spoiled. They would not devote enough time to their studies, and would fail to absorb enough. The people worried that upon entering the land they would not have time for Torah study, and would be left on the level of children.
To this, G-d answered: “I will bring them and they will know the land.” The children, who are in the beginning of the process of learning - when they will fulfill the mitzvot, their service will be most precious to G-d. For this is His desire - that we overcome challenges to study Torah and observe mitzvot. He wants us to put forth our own effort.
This will be the merit with which we enter the land of Israel with the Redemption. Even though our Torah knowledge and fear of Heaven is less than our predecessors, we will nevertheless merit the Redemption because we have demonstrated that we will overcome all obstacles to maintain our relationship with G-d.