Parashat Shelah- The Importance of the Sadik
This week’s parasha, Parashat Shelah, relates that Moshe Rabbeinu dispatches the spies in preparation for entering the Land of Israel. The Torah tells us that he sent one member of each tribe, "ish echad ish echad." Moshe Rabbeinu instructs them to spy the land, and to see if the people who dwell in the land are strong or weak, and if the cities are open or fortified. He also asks them to find out if the soil is fertile, and to bring back some of the fruits of the land.
While these questions are certainly reasonable, Moshe Rabbeinu also asks them to report whether "there is a tree" (hayesh bah etz im ayin). Regarding this verse, the Talmud (Baba Batra 15) asks why Moshe Rabbeinu questions if the land "has a tree." What did he mean?
Rashi (Bamidbar 13:20) paraphrases the Talmud and explains that Moshe Rabbeinu meant to ask if "there is an adam kasher (an upstanding person) whose merit will protect the people." In other words, Moshe Rabbeinu asked for a report of the physical and spiritual attributes of the land.
We are familiar with this concept from Parashat VaYetze. There the Torah (Bereishit 28:10) relates that "Yaakov left Beer Sheva and set out for Haran." Rashi explains that the Torah mentions Beer Sheva in order to emphasize that a righteous person’s presence makes an impression upon a city; "he (the sadik) is its glory and its splendor."
The Hatam Sofer asks why Moshe Rabbeinu uses the phrase "tree" and not "sadik" or "adam kasher"? The Hatam Sofer explains that a tree is constantly growing and expanding. A tree is a symbol of constant growth, above ground, and even underground. So too a sadik is never content with his accomplishments. Rather, he keeps striving, growing and developing until he dies.
I’d like to suggest another understanding. We remember the ending of the story of Yona (4:6), when Yona sought protection from the sun in the shade of a tree known as a "kikayon." A tree not only grows, it provides shade and shelter. This is true not only literally, but also figuratively. The sun, by which the non-Jews count their months, represents foreign culture. This is one of our great challenges. Historically, Jews almost always lived among the nations, and the sun of those cultures shines on us. A sadik is like a tree, a defense, and shelter from foreign influences which people might not feel are really toxic. A sadik protects the people from the dangerous bright lights of modernity.
Finally, after describing Moshe Rabbeinu’s command to the spies, the Torah notes that "it was the days of the first ripe grapes. " Following our analogy, we might explain that we are concerned about the new grapes, the young ones, those who did not have contact with the sadik.
We live in an era in which the young generation values new things - science, academia, and technology - and not tradition. They cannot tolerate something which is not the latest, the newest. Although we support and encourage education, we need to be concerned when higher education causes our children to stray from the Torah. We must teach our children to adhere to the traditions of their parents, their forefathers, and the sadikim. The next generation, those who are just ‘ripening’, need to be exposed to and immersed in our deep and rich traditions.
In this context, I note the passing (5777) of Haham Yom Tov Yedid, the former chief rabbi of Allepo. He was an ‘adam kasher’, the sadik who never stopped learning and growing. He was the sadik who protected us, and sheltered us from the dangerous influences of the surrounding culture. Like Moshe Rabbeinu, we too need to search for the tree, for the succulent fruits of Allepo, and to learn from the Torah and guidance of Haham Yom Tov Yedid z"l - now more than ever, as these days are "the days of the first ripe grapes."