Moses instructed the twelve spies he sent to scout the Promised Land to survey the land. Among the detailed instructions in this week’s parsha about the many features of the land, we finds the following: “Are there trees in it or not.?”
Commentators Raise the question: Moses already instructed them to determine whether the land was fertile. Of what import was the knowledge that there were trees? If the land was fertile, they could easily grow trees.
Furthermore, the actual Hebrew word that the Torah employs here is the singular eitz-tree and not the plural eitzim-trees.
In anticipation of these questions, Rashi—citing a Talmudic interpretation—explains this term figuratively. Moses asked them to see whether there was a worthy person, whose merit would protect them. Moses was, not discussing trees, but a person whose goodness will spread its protective branches over the people of the land.
Two questions still persist. First, why did Moses use a figure of speech, when he could have simply said, “see if there are any worthy or righteous people.”
Second, why did Moses have to instruct them to see whether there “was a tree or not.” It would have sufficed to say that they should see whether there was a tree? Why add the negative, “or not?
One interpretation is that there are two types of worthy people: One that is likened to a tree and the one who, though worthy and righteous, is not.
A tree does not exist for itself. Though it has deep roots and a sturdy trunk, its main function is that it provides shade with its many branches and leaves along with nourishment from its fruits. Moses knew that in a country as populous as Cana’an, there would inevitably be a few worthy people. That did not concern him. What he was concerned about was that there might be even one solitary worthy individual who behaves like a tree, who provides inspiration to others.
If there would be one individual whose entire life was devoted to providing comfort and spiritual nourishment to others, then Moses knew that this nation will be difficult to defeat. If, however, there were many righteous individuals who kept to themselves and exercised no influence on their fellow citizens, then there was nothing to worry about. Their worthiness would prove futile in the conquest of Cana’an.
On a deeper plane one could suggest that Moses was not presenting the spies with two scenarios: One that there was a worthy person, and two, that there was not. Rather Moses was adding clarification as to what constituted a tree, a real worthy individual who can protect his fellow countryman. Moses said they should see if there was a worthy person, who, as we stated before acts like a tree by showing concern for others.
However, that would not suffice. Not every community activist is an asset to the community. It depends on the motives of the community activist. If s/he is motivated by ego and the pursuit of honor, money and power, then the concern is tainted and the community will still be vulnerable.
If however the “tree,” the community activist is “not,” s/he is self effacing and humble, this is the type of leader that can protect his community and make them impervious to an attack from the outside.
Throughout Jewish history, the Jewish nation was blessed with true leaders, whose exclusive concern was the welfare of their community and of the entire Jewish nation.
Tomorrow, the 28th day of the Hebrew month of Sivan, is the 61st anniversary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s arrival in America, escaping the clutches of the Nazi regime in France. The Rebbe is known for his brilliant scholarship (over 200 volumes of his commentaries have been published to date!), as well as for many other monumental achievements. But, what many have noted as the Rebbe’s greatest contribution is his total self-sacrifice in the pursuit of leading and helping the Jewish people and indeed, all of humanity. The Rebbe did not rest, or let us rest,, until our mission of bringing the ultimate Redemption is realized.
But, as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of England, who the Rebbe mentored, once remarked: The Rebbe did not cultivate followers, he cultivated leaders. The Rebbe’s greatest wish was and continues to be the cultivation of all of us to become the humble “tree” that provides comfort and nourishment to all those who are in need of it. This type of selfless leadership is what will render us impervious to the threat from our enemies from without and strengthen us from within, paving the way for the ultimate Redemption.