In this week's parsha Moshe sends twelve representatives, one from each tribe, to Israel to scout out the land. Moshe gave the scouts a few assignments to accomplish on their mission. They were commanded to see whether the land was good and whether the people were strong, and to bring back some fruits. Oddly, they were also assigned to see whether there were any trees, as the pasuk states:
וּמָה הָאָרֶץ הַשְּׁמֵנָה הִוא אִם רָזָה הֲיֵשׁ בָּהּ עֵץ אִם אַיִן וְהִתְחַזַּקְתֶּם וּלְקַחְתֶּם מִפְּרִי הָאָרֶץ וְהַיָּמִים יְמֵי בִּכּוּרֵי עֲנָבִים:
"What is the soil like, is it fat or lean? Are there any trees in it or not? You shall be courageous and take from the fruit of the land." It was the season when the first grapes begin to ripen.
Many commentators understand this request as Moshe's method of encouraging the spies to notice the beauty of the land. Moshe was instructing them to pay particular attention to how wonderful the land is, as it is especially blessed with special fruits. As the Seforno writes, they were to look to see:
הֲיֶשׁ בָּהּ עֵץ
- "גֶּפֶן וּתְאֵנָה וְרִמּוֹן... זֵית שֶׁמֶן וּדְבָשׁ" (שם), שֶׁנִּשְׁתַּבְּחָה בָּהֶם.
היש בה עץ
, are there fruit trees, such as grape vines, fig trees, pomegranate trees and olive trees for which the land is praised.
Rashi takes a different path and explains that the tree they were searching for was actually a metaphor for a deterrent from wanting to conquer the land. As Rashi says:
היש בה עץ
- אם יש בהן אדם כשר, שיגן עליהם בזכותו.
does it have trees:
הִיֵשׁ בָּהּ עֵץ
, lit,. does it have a tree. Does it have a worthy man who will protect them with his merit. - [B.B. 15a]
There are a number of questions to ask regarding this Rashi - for instance, Why does Rashi divert from the pshat? How were they to find this person? - but one important question is: How can a single person have enough merit to protect the entire country? And does that idea even work - can the merit of one person guard an entire population from destruction?
The students at Maimonides know that the answer is a resounding yes. We have been learning about arvut the entire year and are very familiar with the concept that one person has the ability to take responsibility for, and affect the destiny of, others. This responsibility can manifest itself both on an individual level and on a national level. We learned about Yehuda taking responsibility for bringing Binyamin back from Egypt. We discussed Yosef, who took responsibility for physically saving all of the Jewish people in Egypt by providing food. We also learned that there is a metaphysical element to arvut. One person's tefillot can be transferred to help thousands of people. Finally, at the beginning of the year we learned a halacha from the Rambam, who stated in Hilchot Teshuva:
לפיכך צריך כל אדם שיראה עצמו כל השנה כולה כאילו חציו זכאי וחציו חייב וכן כל העולם חציו זכאי וחציו חייב . . . עשה מצוה אחת הרי הכריע את עצמו ואת כל העולם כולו לכף זכות וגרם לו ולהם תשועה והצלה שנאמר וצדיק יסוד עולם זה שצדק הכריע את כל העולם לזכות והצילו
Accordingly, throughout the entire year, a person should always look at himself as equally balanced between merit and sin and the world as equally balanced between merit and sin... If he performs one mitzvah, he tips his balance and that of the entire world to the side of merit and brings deliverance and salvation to himself and others. This is implied by [Proverbs 10:25]. "A righteous man is the foundation of the world" i.e., he who acted righteously tipped the balance of the entire world to merit and saved it.
Based on this arvut example by the Rambam, perhaps the same principle applies to the tree-man living in the land of Israel. The spies were commanded to determine whether there was an individual living in the land who could tip the scales in favor of the Canaanites. The spies knew that even one person, through their positive actions, has the ability to protect a neighborhood, a city, a country, and even the world by tipping the scales favorably and causing the multitude to gain merit through their deeds.
This is one of the many lessons we learned about arvut in the Elementary School this past year. It was a fruitful year learning about arvut and how we are all responsible for, intertwined with, and connected to each other.