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Shelach: An Opportunity for Change

איש אחד איש אחד למטה אבותיו תשלחו כל נשיא בהם.

“One person, one person to the tribe of his fathers shall be sent, every leader among them.”

This verse contains instructions for sending the twelve spies to Canaan on the ill-fated espionage mission described in this week’s Torah portion. The candidates were the leaders of each tribe.

The verse contains a beautiful message about the opportunity for change that each boy receives upon becoming bar mitzvah.

When the tzaddik Reb Elazar, the son of the holy Rebbe Elimelech of Lizensk, was a child, he was extremely boisterous and wild. He was so unruly that it was difficult to restrain him. His saintly father was very pained by his behavior.

When Elazar’s bar mitzvah was coming up, Rebbe Elimelech hired a tailor to sew his son’s new bar mitzvah attire. He requested of the tailor to bring him the cut-out pieces of the fabric before he starts to stitch them into a suit.

The tailor did as requested; he cut out the fabric and then brought the pieces to Rebbe Elemelech. The tzaddik took the pieces into a private room and cried from the bottom of his heart, holding each piece separately in his hands, beseeching Hashem that his son should behave properly when clothed with this garment. “He shall be unable to make a single move against Your Will with these clothes!” he prayed.

On the Shabbos before the bar mitzvah, young Elazar happily put on his brand new suit. And amazingly, Elazar became a changed boy! His friends simply didn’t recognize him; he was so well behaved and controlled! From that day onward, Elazar learned Torah diligently until he grew up to be the great sage he became.

The remarkable opportunity of bar mitzvah is seen in the above-mentioned verse: “Ish echad, ish echad – one person, one person.” The word echad – one, has the numerical value of 13, the age of bar mitzvah. When a boy becomes 13 years old, he becomes a “person,” a man. The word “ish” is repeated to indicate that he can become a totally different person, a new person who serves Hashem properly.

The numerical value of twice echad (13x2) is 26, which is the numerical value of Hashem’s Name. A bar mitzvah boy can utilize the special opportunity of his 13th birthday to become fully devoted to Hashem.

The verse continues: “To the tribe of his fathers shall be sent.” The bar mitzvah boy can grow in maturity and follow in the ways of his fathers.

Another interpretation of these words is “the fathers are sent.” The Zohar tells us that when a family celebrates a special occasion, the souls of the grandparents are sent forth from Gan Eden to join the simcha. When they come down from Heaven and see their children and grandchildren following the Torah, they are elevated and return to a higher place in Gan Eden upon their return. This is hinted at in the final words of the verse, “the leader among them.” The word nasi – leader, can also mean “elevated.” The righteous deeds of the children and grandchildren elevate the souls of their grandparents.

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