Trees? How do trees connect with the strength of a land?
Rashi recognises the problem and, quoting earlier sources as usual (BB 15a), says that trees are symbolic of human beings.
Moses’ question was not really about the vegetation but a deeper issue: in Rashi’s words, “Whether there is amongst the inhabitants an honourable man who will protect them by his merit like a tree protects people by its shade”.
What gives a country its quality is not its trees and flowers – not that these are not important assets – but its citizens. If a country has high-minded people, thinkers, visionaries, men and women of faith and conscience who guard the ethos and ethics of the nation, the people are safe.
Tragically it must be said that our present generation is sadly lacking in “trees”. We have plenty of mediocrities, some of them even impressive administrators, shrewd negotiators and political manipulators, some of them great masters of oratory and rhetoric, but all too few people of integrity, faith and wisdom, able to inspire great dreams and enable great deeds.
The sages say that when there is a tzaddik in the city, “he is its glory, he is its splendour, he is its crown” (Rashi on Gen. 28:10).