Shabbos Parashas Shelach

Yeshayah declares (verse 40:3-8):
A voice calls out in the desert: “Clear the way of Hashem, forge in the desert a straight road for our God.” … The glory of Hashem will be revealed, and all flesh together will see that the mouth of Hashem has spoken. A voice says: “Proclaim!” … “All flesh is like grass and all its kindness is like a blossom in the field. … Grass withers and a blossom fades, but the word of our God shall abide forever.”
The last verse of this passage is quoted by a Midrash on our parashah (Bamidbar Rabbah 16:3) in connection with Hashem’s promise to give the Land of Israel to the Jewish People. We previously presented a segment of the Maggid’s commentary on the Midrash. We now present another segment, which focuses on the verses in the above passage.
The Maggid explains that the passage is expressing praise for the Torah and disdain for worldly matters. Hoshea exhorts (verse 10:12): “Sow for yourselves righteousness.” The message here, the Maggid says, is that we should invest our efforts in Torah and mitzvos. And the Maggid likens those who focus their efforts on worldly matters to the desert of which Yeshayah spoke – just as the desert does not absorb seeds and cause them to sprout, so, too, those who are immersed in worldly matters do not absorb the “seeds” of Torah and mitzvos and cause them to sprout.
The Maggid develops his point with a parable. After suffering a fall in fortune, a certain man left his country and traveled far away, eventually reaching a country on the other side of the sea. The people there were primitive, like wild beasts – they did not know how to work the land to cause it to yield produce. In addition, the country was laden with precious stones, and the people were unaware of their full value. The people sustained themselves through trading with merchants who would bring them grain and fruit in exchange for the precious stones. The man who had moved into the country bought a large field and cultivated it, producing an abundance of grain and fruit. And he began trading his grain and fruit for the precious stones. When the man approached the end of his life, he instructed his sons, saying: “My sons, you should know that I have another son through my first wife whom I married in my former country. Bring him down here and let him take a share in my estate. And let him choose which of my possessions to take, for he is dear to me, and a wise and refined person.”
The man’s sons heeded their father’s words. They brought over the other son and let him choose which of their father’s possessions to take. He chose the precious stones, and let the other sons take the grain and fruit. The other sons found this laughable, for in their eyes the produce was the most valuable part of their father’s estate, and they considered the precious stones trifling. And they were baffled by their father’s having said that this son was wise, for they thought he made a very foolish choice.
Some years later, a wise king came to the country and educated the populace. He taught them how to make farming tools and work the land. Everyone in the country began working the land, and they produced a tremendous crop. And they started transporting the precious stones to other countries and selling them at a high price, commensurate with their great value. Ultimately, grain and fruit in this country became very cheap, while precious stones became expensive. And then the man’s sons said to themselves: “We thought our half-brother was crazy and foolish, but now we see that our father was right when he said he was wise and discerning. He took the truly valuable part of our father’s estate and left us with the inconsequential part.”
The message is as follows. The Land of Israel has both material and spiritual advantages. On the material side, it is a land flowing with milk and honey, a land where we can eat bread without scarceness, a land which lacks no physical assets, whose stones are iron, and from whose hills we may quarry brass (Devarim 8:9). These material assets are great in quantity, but minute in quality. On the spiritual side, the land is infused with holiness, uniquely conducive to Torah, wisdom, sanctity, purity, and prophesy, and uniquely suited to serve as a dwelling place for the Divine Presence. In this vein, it is written (Yeshayah 2:3): “For from Zion will come forth Torah, and the world of Hashem from Yerushalayim.” These spiritual assets are present only in a minute quantity among the general population, but are of immeasurably great value to the wise and discerning.
As long as a person hankers for fleeting worldly pleasures, sets his heart on this world, and views this world as the ultimate good, the spiritual assets of the Land of Israel seem inconsequential to him by comparison. Indeed, in view of the peace and material success that prevailed in Shlomo HaMelech’s time, the spiritual assets seem utterly trifling. We can imagine people of a materialistic orientation saying that Avraham never enjoyed the assets of the land Hashem had promised him. After all, they would say, during Avraham’s time in the land, the Canaanites held dominion and he was only a sojourner. And such people would marvel over how Hashem seemingly did not fulfill the promise He made to Avraham. But in the end of days the truth will emerge and shine forth, and we all will realize that all the material assets of this world are like nothing, and Torah is the only asset of true value. And then, in retrospect, we will see that Avraham took a more than ample helping of the gifts the Land of Israel has to offer, for no one else attained his level of holiness, wisdom, and prophesy.
This is the message of the passage in Yeshayah that we quoted at the outset. He says: “Grass withers and a blossom fades, but the word of our God shall abide forever.” Material assets wither, decay, and fade, but the value of Torah is immeasurable and everlasting.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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